Oct 192018
 
 October 19, 2018  Posted by at 1:04 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Meeting (Encounter) 1940

 

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

 

 

The first thing I thought when I saw that was: how on earth is it possible that in an economy that’s supposedly been growing 6%+ for a decade, stocks have gone nowhere at all? And obviously the role of the Shanghai index is different from that of the S&P, the DAX or the FTSE, but at the alleged Chinese growth rate, the economy would have almost doubled in size in 10 years. And none of that is reflected in stocks?

 

 

And if you think Shenzhen is a better barometer of ‘real’ China, Tyler Durden had this graph yesterday. Not the same as Shanghai, but similar for sure.

 

 

But other aspects of the Chinese economy are perhaps more interesting, I think. China’s mom and pop are not typically in stocks. In the Zero Hedge article I took that graph from, there is also this:

“There’s a liquidity crisis in the stock market, and pledged shares are again starting to sound the alarm,” said Yang Hai, analyst at Kaiyuan Securities. [..] The fear is that if Beijing does nothing, the self-reinforcing liquidation is only set to get worse: with $603 billion of shares pledged as collateral for loans – or 11% of China’s market capitalization, – traders are increasingly concerned that forced sellers will tip the market into a downward spiral.

[..] China in June told brokerages to seek approval before selling large chunks of stock that have been pledged as collateral for loans, while the top financial regulator in August warned the industry that it’s closely watching corporate stock pledges. Neither of those warnings appears to have generated the desired outcome, and the result is that two-thirds of Shenzhen Composite stocks are now at 52-week lows or worse.

[..] what are investors to do in this time of panicked selling? Why demand more bailouts of course, like begging the National Team to step in and rescue them (just like in the housing market): “If there are no real policies to cure the array of problems and ailments in our market, no one will be willing to take the risk,” said Hai. “Authorities keep saying that there is room for more polices, but where are they?”

“It’s high time the state stepped in,” said Dong Baozhen, a fund manager at Beijing Tonglingshengtai Asset Management. “The national funds cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”

It’s this clamoring for the state to come to the rescue of people who are losing money that would appear to define China today, where there is a stock market and housing market, and many ‘investors’ making lots of money, but where the mentality still seems to lurk back to days of old whenever things don’t only go up in a straight line.

There was another report recently of people demonstrating outside a property developer’s office because the firm had lowered purchase prices by 30%. Those that had paid full price now stood to lose that 30%. This happens frequently, and it can get violent. Mom and pop are not in stocks, they are in real estate:

Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities.

The Chinese are thinking about leaders from Deng Xiao Ping to Xi Jinping that it’s great if they steer the country in a direction where everyone can get rich, but when things go awry, it’s still Beijing’s task to solve the problems if and when they occur. I would expect the same kind of thing in many western countries where people have borrowed heavily into housing bubbles, I don’t see mass foreclosures in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, but bailouts of people who grossly overpaid.

But the Chinese go a step further in their demands from central government. And that is an enormous problem for Xi going forward. One crucial facet of all this is psychological: when people count on being bailed out by their government, they will take much more risk, borrow more, with higher leverage etc. If you allow people things like pledging shares to buy more shares, or homes, and shares fall, you have an issue.

China’s well-known for companies buying each other’s shares to appear viable. It’s also known for local governments borrowing heavily from shadow banks in order for party officials to look as if they’re performing real well.

Now of course, if Beijing keeps on presenting all those growth numbers that look so solid, it’s asking for it. Moreover, the Party has lost control over the shadow banks, and it couldn’t act to regain that control if it wanted. It could initiate a program to forgive debt owed to national banks, but what’s owed to the shadows will have to be paid. We’re talking many trillions.

The Party has let the shadows in, because it made its own debt numbers look so much better. But when this whole debt balloon, on which so much of the GDP growth has rested, and the roads to nowhere and empty apartment blocks and cities, starts to pop, who are the Chinese going to turn to? For that matter, who is Xi going to turn to?

Yes, much of the western wealth has turned into a mirage, but in that respect, too, China has done what we did in a fraction of the time. Trump’s tariffs may play a role in a slowdown, but wait until the western economies deflate their debt bubbles and stop buying much of China’s products.

Bubbles vs balloons, that seems a proper way to phrase this. And for better or for worse, Jerome Powell is hiking interest rates. There’s your Needles and Pins.

 

 

Feb 272016
 
 February 27, 2016  Posted by at 1:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Theodor Horydczak Lincoln Memorial 1925

There has been quite a bit of talk lately over the need for a new Plaza Accord, something several parties saw happening during this weekend’s G20 summit in Shanghai -hence the term ‘Shanghai Accord’-. (On September 22, 1985 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, France, West Germany, Japan, the US, and the UK signed an accord to depreciate the US dollar vs the Japanese yen and German Deutschmark by intervening in currency markets).

Unless all the G20 finance ministers and central bankers gathered in China are in close and secretive cahoots, though, it doesn’t look like it is going to happen. And that seems to both make sense and not. What those advocating such an accord are calling for is a -large- devaluation of the Chinese yuan (RMB) vs the USD and yen -perhaps even the euro-, but the climate simply doesn’t look ripe for it.

Still, the problem is, if they don’t do it, they open the doors to a whole lot more volatility, unpredictability and losses in the markets. All things that those markets do not want. Because, like it or not, the yuan is overvalued, China’s fabricated trade numbers are increasingly under scrutiny, and a large devaluation could settle things at least for a while.

However, Beijing looks too full of hubris and pride -and inclusion in the IMF basket of currencies is an issue too- to do what seems natural. Lest we forget, no matter how much China seeks to obfuscate the numbers, everybody already knows that numbers like producer prices and exports, and most importantly imports, have seen steep falls, and for a long time too.

China’s oil tanks look as close to overflowing as the American ones, and without those oil imports, who knows who bad import numbers would have looked? So from a Chinese point of view, a cheaper yuan would mean much cheaper Chinese exports for global buyers, whereas the negative effect of more expensive imports would be relatively small.

But there’s the other side of the equation as well: other nations’ exports would see a potentially enormous effect of cheaper Chinese imports on their domestic manufacturing base. For countries like Germany, the US and Japan, any such devaluation may therefore be an absolute non-starter at this point.

That, however, leaves the fact that there is that large imbalance in currency (FX) markets, and that those markets, along with hedge funders like Kyle Bass, have already made it known that they will seek to exploit that imbalance to go after the yuan for profit. That finance ministers seem unable to ‘soften’ the imbalance will only make them more determined. It’s like the central bankers and finance ministers make their case for them.

A few news snippets from the past week. First, Tyler Durden’s take on BofA’s Michael Hartnett a week ago, who’s quite clear on why there should be a devaluation.

BofA: ‘Shanghai Accord’, Massive Central Bank Intervention Imminent

Any time the relative performance of global financials to US Treasuries has stumbled as far as it has, as shown in the chart below, it has meant one thing – a major central bank intervention was imminent. At least that’s the interpretation of BofA’s Michael Hartnett, who shows that in order to provide the kick for the bounce in this all too important “deflationary leading indicator”, central banks engaged in major unorthodox easing episodes, whether QE1-3, or the ECB’s QE.

Why intervene now? Here are the problems according to Hartnett:
• Problem 1: US economy in “bad Goldilocks”, i.e. US economy not hot/strong enough to lift global GDP & EPS; but not cold/bad enough to induce global coordinated response
• Problem 2: global policy-maker rhetoric in recent days shows “coordinated innocence” not stimulus, all blaming global economy for weak domestic economies (“Overseas factors are to blame”…Japan PM Abe; “drag on U.S. economy from greater-than-expected-slowdown in China & other EM economies“…FOMC minutes; “increasing concerns about the prospects for the global economy”…ECB Draghi; “the change in China’s growth rate can be attributed in part to weak performance of the global economy”…PBoC)

Problem 2 is static, meant for media propaganda and jawboning; it can easily be removed once the global economy takes the next leg lower. Which incidentally would also resolve the gating factor of Problem 1 – as we have said for months, the Fed and its central bank peers need the political cover to launch more stimulus.

And in a reflexive world, where the “economy is the market”, this means just one thing – a big leg lower in stocks is the necessary and sufficient condition to once again push stocks higher, as policy failure is internalized, and global risk reprises from square 1. This is Bank of America’s summary, warning that unless a major policy intervention is enacted, the market will then sell off to the next support level, below the 1,812 which has proven so stable since August. Stabilization of “4C’s” (China, Commodities, Credit, Consumer) allowed SPX 1800 to hold/bounce to 1950-2000; weak policy stimulus in coming weeks could end rally/risk fresh declines to induce growth-boosting policy accord.

Next up, Bloomberg:

Barclays Says Sharp Yuan Devaluation Needed

A sharp, one-off devaluation of the yuan is among options China’s central bank might consider to stem capital outflows and shift market psychology to appreciation from depreciation, according to Barclays. The risk of such a move, which Barclays says would need to be in the region of 25% to alter perceptions, is rising as China’s foreign-exchange reserves plunge, analysts Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Jian Chang wrote in a report. Based on the current pace of decline in those holdings, there’s a six- to 12-month window before they drop to uncomfortable levels and measures such as capital controls or monetary tightening may also have to be looked at to curb the exodus of money, they said. All those options carry elements of danger.

Another rapid yuan depreciation could spook investors just as concern about the state of the global economy is growing and other central banks would likely follow, countering the beneficial impact on Chinese exports, the analysts said. Strict capital controls won’t work in an export-driven economy, while a move to policy tightening could slow growth and cause credit defaults, they said. “A devaluation of this magnitude seems impossible to ‘sell’ to the rest of the world,” according to the analysts at Barclays, the world’s third-biggest currency trader.

And then this from the FT, which confirms the huge question mark over the option:

Scepticism Rife Over G20 Move To Calm FX

Scepticism is rife that the G20 gathering of finance ministers will agree to co-ordinate currency policy but there is some belief it could provide a short-term boost to risk appetite. Japan has led calls for the two-day meeting in Shanghai to bring calmness to an unstable market with a broad-based FX strategy, seen by some market commentators as a reprise of the 1985 Plaza Accord that succeeded in weakening a rampant dollar. But those hopes have been knocked back by China and the US, and market expectations have been subdued in the run-up to the G20 meeting that ends with a communique on Saturday. “A grand solution like the Plaza Accord feels far-fetched”, said Peter Rosenstrich at the online bank Swissquote.

Then, the South China Morning Post a few days back on how Beijing apparently seeks to hide capital outflows data.

Sensitive Financial Data ‘Missing’ From PBOC Report On Capital Outflows

Sensitive data is missing from a regular Chinese central bank report amid concerns about capital outflow as the economy slows and the yuan weakens. Financial analysts say the sudden lack of clear information makes it hard for markets to assess the scale of capital flows out of China as well as the central bank s foreign exchange operations in the banking system. Figures on the “position for forex purchase” are regularly published in the People’s Bank of China’s monthly report on the “Sources and Uses of Credit Funds of Financial Institutions”. The December reading in foreign currencies was US$250 billion. But the data was missing in the central bank’s latest report. It seemed the information had been merged into the “other items” category, whose January figure was US$243.9 billion -a surge from US$20.4 billion the previous month.

Combine that with new world trade numbers as reported by the FT, and you can’t help but wonder 1) what is going on with trade (though this is in USD, and that tweeks things somewhat), and 2) how much the yuan would have to drop to make up for the difference.

World Trade Falls 13.8% In Dollar Terms (FT)

Weaker demand from emerging markets made 2015 the worst year for world trade since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, highlighting rising fears about the health of the global economy. The value of goods that crossed international borders last year fell 13.8% in dollar terms — the first contraction since 2009 — according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis’s World Trade Monitor. Much of the slump was due to a slowdown in China and other emerging economies. The new data released on Thursday represent the first snapshot of global trade for 2015.

Next, Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University HSBC Business School, who does them all one better by questioning even what may be the most widely accepted idea about the Chinese economy.

China Does Not Have a Trade Surplus

Whereas Chinese Customs reports $1.68 trillion and SAFE report $1.57 in goods imports into China, banks report paying $2.55 trillion for imports. In other words, funds paid for imported goods and services was $870-980 billion or 52-62% higher than official Customs and SAFE trade data. This level of discrepancy is extreme in both absolute and relative terms and cannot simply be called a rounding error but is nothing less than systemic fraud. If we adjust the official trade in goods and services balance to reflect cash flows rather than official headline trade data as reported by both Customs and SAFE, the differences are even worse.

According to official Customs and SAFE data, China ran a goods trade surplus of $593 or $576 billion but according to bank payment and receipt data, China ran a goods trade surplus of only $128 billion. If we include service trade, the picture worsens considerably. China via SAFE trade data reports a $207 billion trade deficit in services trade. Payment data reported via SAFE actually reports about $42 billion smaller deficit of $165 billion. In other words, the supposed trade surplus of $600 billion has become a trade in goods and services deficit of $36 billion. Expand to the current, through a significant primary income deficit, and the total current account deficit is now $124 billion.

That doesn’t leave much in one piece of what we’ve been told about the China growth miracle. No wonder the PBoC is ‘airbrushing’, as the NYT says. The problem with this is that analysts are already scrutinizing the data up -very- close, and they’re not going to be easily fooled anymore. For instance, in the case of the missing capital outflows data mentioned earlier, analysts say they can find them out through other channels anyway, and they will be that much more eager to do just that. Trying to bully them is senseless.

As China’s Economic Picture Turns Uglier, Beijing Applies Airbrush

This month, Chinese banking officials omitted currency data from closely watched economic reports. Weeks earlier, Chinese regulators fined a journalist $23,000 for reposting a message that said a big securities firm had told elite clients to sell stock. Before that, officials pressed two companies to stop releasing early results from a survey of Chinese factories that often moved markets. Chinese leaders are taking increasingly bold steps to stop rising pessimism about turbulent markets and the slowing of the country’s growth. As financial and economic troubles threaten to undermine confidence in the Communist Party, Beijing is tightening the flow of economic information and even criminalizing commentary that officials believe could hurt stocks or the currency.

The effort to control the economic narrative plays into a wide-reaching strategy by President Xi Jinping to solidify support at a time when doubts are swirling about his ability to manage the tumult. The persistence of that tumult was underscored on Thursday by a 6.4% drop in Chinese stocks, which are now down more than a fifth since the beginning of this year alone. The government moved to bolster confidence on Saturday by ousting its top securities regulator, who had been widely accused of contributing to the stock market turmoil. Mr. Xi is also putting pressure on the Chinese media to focus on positive news that reflects well on the party. But the tightly scripted story makes it ever more difficult to get information needed to gauge the extent of the country’s slowdown, analysts say. “Data disappears when it becomes negative,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, which analyzes the Chinese economy.

A bit more of that through CNBC:

Chinese Accounting Is ‘Highly Questionable’

Financial reporting in China was back in the spotlight again Friday, with one strategist claiming Chinese businesses were using “accounting trickery” to mask underlying credit problems. China looks like it’s heading towards a credit bust, Chris Watling, CEO and chief market strategist at Longview Economics told CNBC on Friday, explaining that cash borrowed by mainland firms is primarily being used to service debts. “We’ve been looking a lot at Chinese accounting recently and it is highly questionable,” he said. The corporate sector is increasing borrowing to pay interest, while instances of fraud and default are on the rise, he added in a note published Thursday. He said there were many examples where operating profit has been high, while cash flow has been negative — a “classic sign” that firms aren’t generating a profit, he added.

Watling highlighted that the balance sheets of commercial banks were particularly worrying. “In an economy which has undergone a credit boom, all of the lending is not necessarily readily apparent from the top level data,” he said. “Accounting trickery is often at work..”

A good example of where the data fit with reality is this graph from ZH, which has a strong correlation with Balding’s claim that there is no Chinese trade surplus. What there is, is a lot of fake invoices.

And that inevitably leads to this kind of Bloomberg piece. Beijing is dying to get investments flowing in from abroad, but investors have no idea what potential profits will be worth in yuan, or, given capital controls, whether or when they can take them out of the country.

Yuan Uncertainty Scares Funds Away From China Bond Market

Yield versus yuan. That’s the crux of the investment decision now facing the global funds given more access to China’s bond market. While it offers the highest yields among the world’s major economies, PIMCO and Schroder Investment say exchange-rate risk is damping global demand for Chinese assets. Barclays said this week there’s a growing chance China will announce a sharp, one-time devaluation to change sentiment toward the currency and suggested such a move would need to be in the region of 25% to be effective. “Uncertainty around currency policy remains one of the larger hurdles for foreign investors,” said Rajeev De Mello at Schroder Investment in Singapore. “This should be resolved as the year progresses and would then be a signal to increase investments in Chinese government bonds.”

Of course the Chinese claim that this particular uncertainty is just a temporary thing, and it will all be fine soon, but that doesn’t look to be true. Or at least, it will remain an issue, and probably THE issue, as long as the yuan is seen as substantially overvalued. The PBoC and politburo thus far have apparently thought they could solve this by hiding data, uttering soothing words and/or bullying, but that’s not going to work. They need to devalue, and not by a few percent either.

Barclays says a devaluation “would need to be in the region of 25% to alter perceptions”, while Kyle Bass earlier mentioned a 30% to 50% move. Central bankers and politicians can try and stand still in the Mexican standoff until they’re blue in the face, but the markets will not stand still, and only get more nervous as time passes.

It doesn’t need to be done in Shanghai over the weekend, though one may wonder what will happen in the Chinese equity markets next week if nothing is done while there are great expectations now. From whatever angle we look at the issue, the outcome seems crystal clear: better get it done soon.

The US and Germany may not like it initially, but the uncertainty will hit them too, because the anticipation of a -strong- yuan devaluation affects their export markets, bonds, equities and currencies as well.

One problem we should not overlook may be that in the 1985 Plaza Accord, the strongest party -the US- wanted to get something done and got their devaluation wish. This time around, it’s not the strongest party that needs a devaluation, and the party that does need it doesn’t want it.

It is a very different set-up.

Aug 202015
 
 August 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924

China Stocks Slump Again Despite Government Support (Reuters)
China Strengthens Yuan By Most In 2 Months; Massive Liquidity Injection (ZH)
China Central Bank Injects Most Funds Since February (Bloomberg)
Is This The Great Crash Of China? (Steve Keen)
China’s August Scare Is A False Alarm As Fiscal Crunch Fades (AEP)
Should We Be Afraid Of China’s ‘Value Chain’? (CNBC)
Eurozone: The Case Against ‘Cash For Reform’ (Martin Sandbu)
Greece’s First Privatization Deal Since Third Bailout Hits Snag (Bloomberg)
Fresh Doubts Raised Over Privatization Of 14 Greek Airports (Xinhua)
Stiglitz: “Deep-Seatedly Wrong” Economic Thinking Is Killing Greece (Parramore)
Dutch Lambast Greece For Creating ‘Complete Chaos’ (Telegraph)
European Bailout Fund To Disburse First Greek Tranche On Thursday (Reuters)
The Fisherman’s Lament – A Way of Life Drowned by Greece’s Crisis (WSJ)
Get Used To Cheap Oil, Derivatives Markets Say (Reuters)
As Canada’s Oil Debt Soars to Record, an Industry Shakeout Looms (Bloomberg)
Cheap Oil’s Making It Tough for Ethanol to Pay the Bills (Bloomberg)
Banks Have Treated Our Housing Market Like A Ponzi Scheme (David)
Rebels In Ukraine’s Donetsk Plan Referendum On Joining Russia (Xinhua)
China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It (Bloomberg)
British Police Head To Calais To Stymie Migrant Smuggling Activity (Guardian)
Refugee Chaos in Macedonia: ‘Life-Threatening for Women and Children’ (Spiegel)

Shanghai closed down another 3.42%. Capital is taking the Concorde out of the country.

China Stocks Slump Again Despite Signs Of Government Support (Reuters)

China stocks tumbled again in late trading on Thursday, underscoring fragile investor confidence in the market as worries about the world’s second largest economy persist. Trading volumes were thin, suggesting many investors stayed on the sidelines. Shares were marginally lower in the morning, as statements by a slew of companies that the government had invested in them boosted some counters. But in mid-afternoon, prices began to drop. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell 3.2%, to 3,761.45, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 3.4%, to 3,664.29 points.

The SSEC is now down about 7% since China devalued the yuan by nearly 2% on Aug. 11. On Wednesday, the indexes had reversed sharp losses to end higher, as roughly 30 Chinese listed companies, many small caps, disclosed holdings by government-backed investors in an apparent attempt to sooth market panic following the previous session’s 6% tumble. “Even as the government has the will to put a floor under the market, whether it has the ability to do so is in doubt,” said Hou Yingmin, analyst at AJ Securities, citing adversities including an anaemic economy, capital outflows and ugly technical patterns. “Without fresh money inflows, any rebound is not sustainable.”

Most sectors fell, with transport and real estate shares leading the decline. Analysts have said further yuan depreciation would trigger fresh capital outflows, putting pressure on the property market. But investors nevertheless bet on companies with investments from state-backed investor Central Huijin, and state margin lender China Securities Finance Corp (CSFC), which was tasked with propping up share prices during crisis.

Read more …

Not looking good for Beijing.

China Strengthens Yuan By Most In 2 Months; Massive Liquidity Injection (ZH)

The PBOC set the Yuan fix 0.08% stronger – the biggest ‘strengthening in 2 months, which is interesting because following The IMF’s confirmation of a delay to Yuan inclusion in the SDR basket to Oct 2016 (pending a year-end decision and asking for more flexibility), Offshore Yuan forwards notably devalued (shifting 350pips higher to 6.65, the highest/weakest Yuan in a week) pricing a 20 handle (or 3%) devaluation by August 2016. Overnight saw another CNY110bn liquidity injection rescue from The PPT in the afternoon session (saving SHCOMP from a close below the 200DMA) and tonight we see promise to recap Ag Bank along with another CNY 120bn reverse repo injection. Shanghai margin debt declined for a 2nd day in a row and Chinese stocks look set to open weaker.

Read more …

“Authorities have to walk a thin line between boosting exports and satisfying the IMF’s requirements for the yuan to obtain reserve status, while at the same time ensuring financial stability.”

China Central Bank Injects Most Funds Since February (Bloomberg)

China’s central bank injected the most funds in open-market operations since February as intervention to prop up the yuan strained the supply of cash and drove a key money-market rate to a four-month high. The People’s Bank of China pumped a net 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) into the financial system this week, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the most since before the Chinese New Year holiday, when seasonal demand for cash spikes. The authorities are providing another 170 billion yuan through loans and an auction of deposits. The injections come after China surprised investors by devaluing the yuan last week and shifting to a more market-oriented exchange rate. Under the new system, PBOC intervention has partly replaced the daily reference rate’s role in guiding currency moves.

Yuan purchases risk driving borrowing costs higher at a time of slowing economic growth unless the monetary authority releases additional cash. “Front-end rates have been edging up, likely resulting from tighter liquidity conditions amid intervention,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale in Hong Kong. “The PBOC needs to step up its open-market operations to offset the liquidity withdrawal on the foreign-exchange side.” Authorities have to walk a thin line between boosting exports and satisfying the IMF’s requirements for the yuan to obtain reserve status, while at the same time ensuring financial stability. The overnight repurchase rate, a gauge of liquidity in the banking system, rose three basis points to 1.80% as of 1 p.m. in Shanghai, according to a weighted average from the National Interbank Funding Center. That’s the highest since April 23 and reflects increased demand for cash.

Read more …

“..it is more heavily indebted than America was when its crisis began—even relying on official statistics which undoubtedly understate the real situation..”

Is This The Great Crash Of China? (Steve Keen)

Banks in the West effectively ignore what the government wants: in the West, the political class is effectively subservient to the financial class. But in China, despite its economic transformation, the political class remains dominant: any Chinese entity that ignores a government directive does so at its peril. Things are not as they were in the 1980s, when every answer to every question that I and my group of touring Australian journalists asked began with “We followed the directives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China”.

But it’s still not good for your health to flout Central Committee policy. So the Chinese banking system and its satellites lent like crazy to any company and many individuals, and one of the biggest credit bubbles in history—possibly the biggest ever—took off. In 2010, the increase in private debt in China was equivalent to 35% of GDP. That dwarfs the rate of growth of credit in both Japan and the USA prior to their crises: Japan topped out at just over 25% per year, and the USA reached a “mere” 15% of GDP per year.

As I have argued for a decade now, crises begin when the rate of growth of credit slows down in heavily indebted countries. China was not heavily indebted in 2008, which is why it could take the credit growth path out of the Global Financial Crisis. But now it is more heavily indebted than America was when its crisis began—even relying on official statistics which undoubtedly understate the real situation—and the momentum of debt may well carry it past the peak level reached by Japan after its Bubble Economy collapsed in the early 1990s.

So China is having its first fully-fledged capitalist crisis. To date its response to it has been to try to sustain the unsustainable: to transfer the bubble from housing to the stockmarket, and to keep the stockmarket rising like some production target for wheat from the bad old days before the fall of the Gang of Four. It can’t be done. At some point, the Chinese government is going to have to make the transition from generating a credit bubble to trying to contain its aftermath.

Read more …

Ambrose is the odd one out.

China’s August Scare Is A False Alarm As Fiscal Crunch Fades (AEP)

The situation in China is desperate but not serious, to borrow an old Viennese saying. Countries with a tight exchange controls and state banking systems may come to grief in the long-run, but they do not face the sort of financial collapse seen in the US and Europe in 1931 or 2008. China’s central bank (PBOC) has already warned that it will deploy the coercive might of the Communist regime to stop anybody smuggling money abroad under false pretexts, invoking laws covering “money laundering and terrorist financing.” It said violators will be “severely punished”. They will be sent to the proverbial asbestos mines of Sichuan. This is the sort of liberalisation that Xi Jinping does best. Given the sanctions and given that China has a trade surplus of $600bn or 6pc of GDP – and is therefore accumulating foreign exchange at blistering pace, ceteris paribus – there is no chance whatsoever that reserve losses will spin out of control.

Jens Nordvig from Nomura says China has $3.65 trillion reserves to cover foreign currency debts of $1.135 trillion, a ratio of 322pc. This a far cry from the East Asia Crisis in 1997-1998 when the ratio was 59pc in Malaysia, 33pc in Thailand, 27pc in Indonesia, and 22pc in Korea. All these countries had current account deficits. China most emphatically does not. “We think the authorities will remain in control of the situation. This may mean that the worst shock effect is behind us, although ultimately the economic data will provide the final verdict,” he said. On cue, the economy is already coming back to life after hitting a brick wall over the winter. Credit growth jumped to a 31-month high in July. The monetary base has grown at a 20pc rate over the last three months, implying an economic spike later this year.

It is worth remembering what has just happened in China. The country is recovering from a ferocious monetary and fiscal shock. The authorities refused to react as falling inflation caused one-year lending rates to ratchet up to 5pc in real terms from zero in late 2011. This was deliberate, of course. Premier Li Keqiang intended to break the back of the property bubble and wean the country off its $26 trillion credit dependency. But pricking bubbles is no easy task. The authorities overshot. The crunch came just as fiscal policy went awry. Budget spending contracted in the first quarter. This was certainly not intended. While details remain murky, it appears that banks refused to roll over short-term loans used by local governments to finance a raft of existing projects.

They feared that these loans were no longer covered by a state guarantee under new rules. “It caused huge disruption,” said Capital Economics. At the same time, the regions saw a sudden-stop in lending for new projects as well. Local governments were prohibited from fresh bank borrowing in January. Under the so-called “debt swap” plan there was supposed to be a seamless transition from loans to bond issuance, but the bond market was not up and running until May. This is why China crashed into a recession in the first half of the year. Wisely or not – depending on your economic religion – the Communist Party has now reverted to stimulus as usual. The local governments issued almost $200bn of bonds over the two months of July and August. Beijing coyly describes its fiscal spending as “proactive”. Turbo-charged would be another way of putting it.

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I’m not.

Should We Be Afraid Of China’s ‘Value Chain’? (CNBC)

The devaluation of the yuan may have a tougher impact on global companies than previously imagined, as China’s drive to produce and consume higher-quality goods intensifies. The shockwaves of the People’s Bank of China’s devaluation of its currency are still resonating around the world’s markets, but in the medium to long-term, it’s manufacturers who may hurt the most. Western companies from Apple to Burberry will face a tough time finding out whether they can rely on their cachet in China even when their goods becoming more expensive. China’s wealth has grown by leaps and bounds since the gradual opening up of its economy began in the 1980s.

Its per capita GDP in 2014 was $12,608.87, when adjusted for purchasing power, more than double what it had been just a decade before. The Chinese leadership’s current five-year economic plan (2011 to 2015) is specifically aimed at moving the economy’s fast-paced growth away from the low-cost manufacturing it had become famous for, towards consumption. Tactics included greater investment in research and development, higher-end manufacturing, and services targeted at the country’s burgeoning middle class.

In May, the Made in China 2025 plan has been billed by Premier Li Keqiang as an attempt to “redouble our efforts to upgrade China from a manufacturer of quantity to one of quality.” He pledged in May to “seek innovation-driven development, apply smart technology, strengthen foundations, pursue green development” – all of which is aimed at avoiding the “middle income trap”, where a country gets stuck at a certain level of economic development. Worryingly for those countries which have done well out of exporting to China in recent years, the plan includes sourcing 70% of key components within China’s borders by 2025.

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“Euro area policymakers have lived on one myth after another..”

Eurozone: The Case Against ‘Cash For Reform’ (Martin Sandbu)

“Euro area policymakers have lived on one myth after another,” says Ashoka Mody, a former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund. “A process of groupthink coalesces around these myths: ‘We know it’s not going to work but we need to make it work and we need to seem supportive’ — and before you know it they start to believe it. And because there is no democratic accountability, they are free to make one error after another in terms of economic and political logic.” The eurozone establishment has largely internalised the idea that “cash for reform” is necessary to keep the euro together.

The most direct challenge to it, from Greece’s Syriza party, was defeated when other countries — most notoriously Germany — made clear they would rather force Greece out of the euro than consider alternatives to offering refinancing in return for control over fiscal and reform policies. The idea that “there is no alternative” also motivates the efforts to “complete” Europe’s economic and monetary union. These efforts at deeper integration, epitomised most recently in the so-called “Five Presidents’ Report” — written by the heads of the most influential eurozone and EU institutions — proceed from the notion that the euro was flawed at birth and needs significant repairs to function properly. [..]

This article examines four widely-held preconceptions about Europe’s single currency. First, that the euro eroded the export competitiveness of the weaker countries. Second, that the resulting debt made official bailouts necessary. Third, that a monetary union can work only in the presence of a “fiscal union” — large budget transfers between countries to insure against downturns. And fourth, that the weaker countries must undergo deep structural reforms to be able to stay in the euro.
Each of these claims has had an outsize influence on policy. The research reported below shows that they should not be taken for granted.

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Fraport is rumored not to have paid its Greek VAT in many years.

Greece’s First Privatization Deal Since Third Bailout Hits Snag (Bloomberg)

Greece’s first privatization agreement since the country’s third bailout hit a snag just one day after the government announced the deal’s approval. A government council overseeing state asset sales said on Tuesday that Fraport AG and a unit of Greece’s Copelouzos Group had won a 40-year concession to operate 14 regional airports for €1.2 billion. Fraport commented afterward that the decision was “not tantamount to the conclusion of a contract but rather offers a basis for the resumption of negotiations.” The Greek government said Wednesday that it had approved the contract based on previous agreements, and that any effort to seek a renegotiation “wouldn’t be limited to the issues raised by the company.”

Fraport is “working toward a positive outcome,” said Joerg Machacek, a company spokesman. The airport deal is meant to be the first in a series of privatizations that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to undertake in return for the third bailout package worth as much as €86 billion. The most pressing matter is obtaining funding to avoid a default Thursday when Greece must pay €3.2 billion to the ECB. Under the current proposal, Fraport would invest €1.4 billion to upgrade the airports by the end of the concession. The German company would also pay an annual lease of €22.9 million for the airports, which include the holiday islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

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It’s simply a bad bad deal. Strike it.

Fresh Doubts Raised Over Privatization Of 14 Greek Airports (Xinhua)

Fresh doubts were raised on Wednesday after the government finalized a €1.23 billion deal with the German consortium Fraport-Slentel on Tuesday to privatize 14 regional airports in Greece. The sale of the airports’ operation rights for 40 years was the first privatization to be concluded under the third bailout that was ratified by the Greek parliament on Friday. It was also the first privatization to be carried out since the left-led government coalition assumed power after the general elections in January. The announcement sparked mixed reactions in Greece. Some members of opposition parties welcomed the deal as a step towards boosting development. At the same time, they criticized the government for wasting precious time by delaying decisions for months.

Meanwhile, the ruling SYRIZA party’s hardliners denounced the “sell off” in a statement. Left Platform accused the government of “handing a great gift to the German government in return for the new catastrophic bailout.” The president of the Federation of Greek Civil Aviation Workers (OSYPA), Vassilis Alevizopoulos, warned of strike actions and lawsuits in Greek and European courts to “safeguard Greek public interests,” speaking to local VIMA radio station on Wednesday. Critics argued that the funds the German consortium would invest in the upgrade of the airports under the contract were insufficient and the cost will undoubtedly be transferred to travelers. In this climate of prolonged economic and political uncertainty in Greece, the German investors would most likely seek “more guarantees” from the government, Kathimerini reported.

However, Greek government sources stressed that if the consortium should wish to renegotiate the contract, there would be an in-depth dialogue on all issues. The agreement on the concession of the 14 airports that included the airports of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, and airports on islands such as Corfu and Mykonos, was initially scheduled to close in late 2014, but was frozen in the pre-election period. SYRIZA, which initially opposed the entire privatization program since the beginning of Greek bailouts in 2010, had previously said that the terms of the tender would be reviewed. But according to Tuesday’s official announcement, no amendments were made on the finalization of the privatization. [..]Greek ministers argued that privatizations would take place under changed conditions in comparison to the past “to benefit Greek economy and people.”

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“..the MoU is really a “surrender document” that eclipses the country’s economic sovereignty and ensures that Greece’s depression — already deeper than America’s Great Depression — will get worse.”

Stiglitz: “Deep-Seatedly Wrong” Economic Thinking Is Killing Greece (Parramore)

Bad economic ideas inflict untold human suffering. When they come cloaked in a fog of Orwellian obfuscation, their poison and effects can spread with little hindrance. The public is misled. Power plays are hidden from view. In Greece, where suicide rates have risen sharply in the wake of austerity measures, people lose hope. Joseph Stiglitz, who has been following the Greek crisis closely and is recently returned from Athens, sets himself to the task of cutting through the fog. His plain English and fearless use of moral language to expose the ugliness behind economic and political abstractions lend clarity to a situation that is not just bringing a nation to its knees, but threatening to destroy the European project and bring on a future of conflict and hardship.

In discussing Greece’s Third Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and its draconian terms, Stiglitz observes that the MoU is really a “surrender document” that eclipses the country’s economic sovereignty and ensures that Greece’s depression — already deeper than America’s Great Depression — will get worse. An economy that is seeing youth unemployment reaching up to 60% is likely to lose another 5% in GDP. That is over and beyond the 25% plunge in GDP the country has been hit with since the imposition of austerity measures. Socially conservative Germans, Stiglitz warns, are doubling down on the discredited notion that austerity policies help economies recover in times of crisis.

In reality, the insistence on keeping wages down, stripping away bargaining power from workers, forcing small business owners to pay taxes a year in advance, and cutting pensions will only hamper demand and lead to a deepening spiral of debt. (Stiglitz emphasizes that hardly any of the money loaned to Greece has actually gone to help the Greeks themselves, but rather private-sector creditors – namely German and French banks). Reflecting on a recent panel at Columbia University with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble followed by a dinner, Stiglitz said, “My heart goes out to Greece, even more so after meeting Schäuble.”

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The Dutch are clueless. They blame SYRIZA for what’s ailing Greece. For Pete’s sake, get a life.

Dutch Lambast Greece For Creating ‘Complete Chaos’ (Telegraph)

German MPs voted to back a third bail-out for Greece on Wednesday as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte fought back a no confidence vote over his decision to support the €86bn rescue plan. After a three-hour debate, Berlin’s Bundestag approved a new rescue package for Greece with a majority of 454 votes to 113. Eighteen MPs also abstained, marking Angela Merkel’s biggest insurrection during her decade in office. Of her ruling CDU/CSU parliamentarians, 63 MPs voting against the package, more than the 60 coalition MPs who voted “no” in an initial vote in July. But the approval was enough to secure the disbursement of €13bn from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the eurozone’s bail-out fund.

However, less than €1bn will go directly to the Greek government and €3.2bn will be used to immediately pay back a maturing bond held by the ECB on Thursday. It is the first injection of rescue cash to the Greek economy since August 2014 after eight months of ill-tempered talks and political crisis in the eurozone. EU policymakers hailed the agreement on Wednesday evening. Pierre Moscovici, the euro’s economics chief, said the deal would mark a “new chapter based on reforms, fairness and shared trust” between Greece and its creditors. Ratification from the German parliament was crucial in securing the deal. Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister, told lawmakers that a deal was in the “interest of Europe”, but admitted that backing for a third bail-out deal was “not easy” and there was “no guarantee of success”.

“If Greece stands by its obligations and the programme is completely and resolutely implemented, then the Greek economy can grow again,” he said. “The opportunity is there. Whether it will be used, only the Greeks can decide.” Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is also president of the Eurogroup, said reaching an accord was difficult. “Greece has seen decades of bad policies and six months of complete chaos,” he told his parliament. The Dutch backlash was led by right-wing politician Geert Wilders, who has called for the Netherlands to withdraw from the European Union. “Today we are here to prevent Dutch PM Rutte from indulging in his favorite hobby: sending money to Greece, this time €5bn,” Mr Wilders told the Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

Mr Wilders said Mr Rutte had reneged on a pledge in September 2012 that “enough is enough” and that Greece would get no more financial help from the country. “He’s the Pinocchio of the low countries. This is betrayal,” said Mr Wilders. “We need this money to support health care and the elderly. This government hates the elderly.” Mr Rutte said he took “responsibility” for his comments, but defended the government’s decision to back a bail-out, claiming that “no-one could have foreseen” in 2012 how the situation in Greece would evolve. “The new Greek government has caused great damage,” he said.

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Crucial for Greece: bank recapitalization. The rest is circle jerk only.

European Bailout Fund To Disburse First Greek Tranche On Thursday (Reuters)

The European Stability Mechanism will disburse the first tranche of funds from Greece’s bailout loan on Thursday, the Greek finance ministry said after the ESM board approved a rescue of up to €86 billion on Wednesday. Athens will receive €13 billion on Thursday morning, the ministry said, of which about €12 billion will be used to pay down debt, including an earlier bridge loan and money owed to the ECB. “Nearly one billion euros will be made available to the Greek state, a sum that can be used to pay arrears,” the finance ministry said in a statement.

The new bailout package of up to €86 billion for 32.5 years includes up to €25 billion to recapitalize Greek banks, of which 10 billion will be immediately available, according to the ministry. Athens needed the funds in time to make a €3.2 billion debt payment to the ECB on Thursday. The initial €13 billion tranche will be paid in cash, while the €10 billion euros for the recapitalization of banks will be sent to a segregated account in the form of ESM notes.

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“..economic pain was designed into the Greek rescue. Unable to devalue Greece’s currency, the bailouts’ architects—other eurozone countries and the IMF—tried to push down prices and wages in a process called “internal devaluation.”

The Fisherman’s Lament – A Way of Life Drowned by Greece’s Crisis (WSJ)

Dimitris Stathakis, 75 years old and wearing no shoes, is at work on the aft deck of the North Aegean, a fishing boat docked in the Greek port of Nea Michaniona. The boat’s 14-man crew is prepping for a night at sea. Bags of ice are tossed aboard. Someone brings a delivery of white Styrofoam boxes. It is baking hot. Mr. Stathakis has his shirt on his head to keep the sun off. He is mending nets with flicks of a plastic shuttle and assessing the state of a profession he took up in his teens. “This is the end,” he says. “This is the worst. There is no life anymore.” The fisherman’s lament is as old as the seas. And Greeks have earned a living from fish for eons. It is the country’s second-largest agricultural export, behind fruit and nuts but ahead of olive oil and cheese.

Six years of economic crisis, however, have left this way of life in a shambles. A collapse in household buying power has demolished demand for fish, and with it fishermen’s income. Aquaculture companies, once a shining star in the marine economy, are drowning in debts. Fish processors are struggling with high costs for finance and relentless price pressure among strapped shoppers. Few think the woes will end soon. The Greek government has signed up to a new bailout, with more years of belt-tightening ahead. The first notches came last month, in laws rushed through parliament at the behest of Greece’s creditors: Fishermen face higher pension contributions, while fish processors face new, higher taxes on processed food.

Meantime, Greek banks are only dribbling out cash to customers—further strangling already weak demand. Sales at North Aegean Sea Canneries SA, one of Greece’s largest fish processors, dropped 20% at the beginning of the crisis. The company is facing a long recovery. Nikolaos Tzikas, an owner, says he had hoped to crawl back to 2011 levels this year. “Now,” he says, “I don’t know.” The travails of Greece’s fish industry show how years of crisis and bailouts have left the country’s economy in worse shape than before—and why the next episode may well meet the same fate. In a way, economic pain was designed into the Greek rescue. Unable to devalue Greece’s currency, the bailouts’ architects—other eurozone countries and the IMF—tried to push down prices and wages in a process called “internal devaluation.”

The hope was that lower costs would make Greek industries nimbler and more competitive, juicing a sustained economic recovery. Instead, the loss of income has killed consumption. People are too poor to buy stuff and the banks too weak to give them credit, and the effects ripple up the economic chain. “Internal devaluation did not do any good for the Greek fishing, aquaculture and processing sector,” says Lamprakis Avdelas, a fishing expert at a government-affiliated institute in Athens.

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“..the price of oil in five years’ time has collapsed in recent months.”

Get Used To Cheap Oil, Derivatives Markets Say (Reuters)

Oil prices will stay low for years to come, derivatives markets say, keeping a lid on inflation and helping boost global growth. Oil has more than halved in value over the last year, thanks to huge oversupply, and many oil companies, particularly in the United States, say they may soon have to rein in production, tightening supply, unless the market recovers. That has led many analysts to predict that oil – on average around 5% of companies’ costs – will see price rises later this year or in 2016, pushing up inflation. But oil derivatives tell another story. Contracts for delivery of crude oil in the future on the big commodities markets such as the New York Mercantile Exchange and the InterContinental Exchange show the price of oil in five years’ time has collapsed in recent months.

U.S. crude now costs around $42 a barrel for delivery next month, and only about $20 more for delivery in 2020. Prices of oil for future delivery are usually much more stable than volatile near-term prices, holding their value even when the spot market crashes. But the recent oil-price rout looks different. Prices for all futures months for years to come, also known as the futures price “curve”, have come down sharply. “The curve is saying prices will stay low for some time,” said Amrita Sen, oil analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects.

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All that’ll be left is the lethal tailings ponds.

As Canada’s Oil Debt Soars to Record, an Industry Shakeout Looms (Bloomberg)

Canadian energy companies’ debt loads are the heaviest in at least a decade, boosting concern that some won’t survive the collapse in crude prices. Trican Well Service, Canada’s largest fracking service provider, said last week it may be unable to continue because it’s in danger of breaching the terms of its debt. It’s the latest firm to see crude’s descent to a six-year low sap the cash flow needed to meet financial obligations. Oil’s plunge has pushed a measure of the average debt burden among Canadian energy firms to the highest since at least 2002, and another measure of their ability to make interest payments to the third-lowest level in a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Facing some of the highest production costs in the world and carrying more debt than U.S. peers, the Canadian industry has become ripe for acquisitions. “Your ability to be an ongoing entity is certainly decreased,” said Jason Parker, head of fixed-income research at Bank of Montreal. “You’ll see larger, more financially affluent entities coming in and picking away at those properties.” Energy companies in the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index had an average of 3.1 times more debt than earnings as of their latest quarterly report, the highest ratio in Bloomberg data going back to the middle of 2002. That measure, a gauge of a firm’s ability to repay its obligations where a higher number indicates greater difficulty, has surged this year amid the global oil glut that’s depressed prices and earnings.

Another ratio, measuring how much greater earnings are than interest expenses, plummeted to the third least in a decade at the end of last year, suggesting there’s less money to service the borrowings. The heavy crude that many Canadian firms pump sells at almost the widest discount in a year relative to the U.S. benchmark. At $24.22 per barrel on Wednesday, the price is below the cost of production for many companies. For James Jung, who rates the debt of Canadian oil companies at DBRS Ltd. in Toronto, that divides the country’s industry into winners and losers, with those who have stronger balance sheets and lots of cash in a position to take advantage as more peers struggle with debt.

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That’s one Ponzi industry I wouldn’t mind seeing killed off.

Cheap Oil’s Making It Tough for Ethanol to Pay the Bills (Bloomberg)

Cheap crude oil may make it hard for ethanol companies to pay their bills on time. The lowest oil prices in six years are hitting biofuel producers two ways: They’re making ethanol less attractive as a blend for gasoline, and emboldening the arguments of petroleum backers who say the U.S. law mandating consumption of the fuel alternative is obsolete, Standard & Poor’s Ratings said in a report Wednesday. “The most noteworthy trend in the energy industry during the past year has been the precipitous decline in commodity prices, and chief among these has been plummeting oil prices,” Michael Ferguson, a credit analyst at S&P, wrote. “The lower oil prices may present a difficult rationale for blending ethanol.”

Crude oil has fallen 57% in the past year to $40.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since March 2009. Gasoline has plunged 42% and ethanol has dropped 31%. Regulatory support has also waned. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the amount of ethanol required to be mixed with gasoline from statutory levels set in 2007, citing changing driving habits and fuel use since then. That’s not reason enough to abandon the policy, according to Growth Energy, a Washington-based trade group. “Cheap gas and cheap oil is never a certainty, and often it is the exception,” Tom Buis, chief executive officer of the lobby, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Renewable Fuels Association, also a Washington-based trade group, said the S&P report “is really out of step with the realities of the market place today.” Low-priced crude oil lowers gasoline costs and makes ethanol less attractive for blending beyond government mandates. An additive, ethanol is used to boost gasoline supply and lower prices. “Consumers are saying, ‘I’ve already got cheap gas, why do I need this ethanol?’” Ferguson, the report’s author, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

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Australia.

Banks Have Treated Our Housing Market Like A Ponzi Scheme (David)

Australia’s big four banks are among the largest and most profitable financial institutions in the world. Despite this, it is mathematically impossible that these banks, primarily focused on domestic retail operations, could be as big and profitable as they currently are without one of the following taking place: either each of these banks, in their individual capacity, has solved (at the same time, in the same country, and as a first in the history of banking) the ultimate recipe for infinitely profiting from an exponentially-growing stock of private debt; or they are all engaged in activity which is incredibly risky. Looking at the balance sheets of these four banking leviathans they have clearly taken on abnormal sums of risk to invest in a single, all-in, one-way bet on the housing market.

As my colleague Philip Soos and I told the House of Representatives’ economics committee inquiry into home ownership last week, the evidence suggests that on the back of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing what can only be described as a classic debt-financed speculative housing bubble with every metric that evidenced the bubble in the US and Ireland present within our economic system today. Between 2002 and 2015, the mortgage books of National Australia Bank, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac grew by 388%, 435%, 475% and 554% respectively. Put another way, the big four’s mortgage books escalated from a combined $242bn to a whopping $1.13tn, surging at such a consistent rate it would make Bernie Madoff proud.

What the Australian banking system has developed is an uninterrupted growth model which shares a similar risk profile as a Ponzi or pyramid scheme by lending ever-larger sums of debt to homebuyers and property investors year after year. If this growth model is interrupted, however, and banks cannot expand their mortgage books further, housing price inflation halts and will then plunge.

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Only choice left that will stop the shelling.

Rebels In Ukraine’s Donetsk Plan Referendum On Joining Russia (Xinhua)

Leaders of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” are planning to hold a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, the Donetsk-based Ostrov news agency reported Wednesday. The referendum is scheduled to be held in two to four weeks after the Oct. 18 local elections, said the news agency. The ballot papers for the referendum designed in the colors of the Russian flag have already been printed, it said. Neither the rebel leadership nor the Ukrainian authorities have commented on the report yet.

In July, leaders of pro-independence insurgents in Donetsk region said they would hold local elections on Oct. 18 without Kiev’s supervision as they believed that the Ukrainian government has not fulfilled its obligations under the Minsk peace agreement. Last week, violence in eastern Ukraine has sharply escalated after several weeks of relative calmness. On Sunday night, at least 11 people, including nine civilians, were reportedly killed in Donetsk region, marking the worst casualties in the conflict since early June.

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Hilarious.

China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It (Bloomberg)

Deep on the southeastern side of Lake Nicaragua, along a bumpy dirt road that climbs gently through lush-green forest, sits the tiny town of El Tule. It is quintessential rural Central America: Chickens roam outside tin-roofed homes while pigs stand tied to trees, awaiting slaughter; the sound of drunk locals singing along to ranchera music greeted visitors on a recent rain-soaked afternoon. The village, if you listen to Nicaraguan officials, is a key point in what will be the biggest infrastructure project the region has ever seen, the construction of a $50 billion canal slated to run 170 miles from the country’s east to west coast. Awarded two years ago by President Daniel Ortega to an obscure Chinese businessman named Wang Jing, the concession calls for El Tule to be ripped up, erased essentially, in order to make way for the canal right before it plunges into the lake and then meets the Pacific Ocean a few miles later.

The idea is that the waterway will attract many of the larger vessels that the Panama Canal — located just 300 miles to the southeast — has historically struggled to accomodate. A construction deadline of 2020 has been set. Yet a four-day tour through El Tule and surrounding areas slated for crucial initial development only seemed to corroborate the belief, harbored by many analysts inside and outside Nicaragua, that this project isn’t going to get done. The townspeople haven’t seen any signs of canal workers in months. And the work that was done was marginal. A handful of Chinese engineers were spotted late last year making field notations on the east side of the lake; early this year, a dirt road was expanded and light posts were upgraded at a spot on the west side where a port is to be built.

Juharling Mendoza, a 32-year-old local entrepreneur, is so convinced that the project won’t proceed that he’s constructing a two-story house with three guest rooms and an attached convenience store just outside of El Tule. He says bluntly: “There isn’t going to be a canal.”

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These people are completely nuts. Sending dogs on refugees says it all.

British Police Head To Calais To Stymie Migrant Smuggling Activity (Guardian)

British police will be deployed to Calais to target people-smuggling gangs as part of a new agreement aimed at alleviating the ongoing migrant crisis at the French port. In the first visit to Calais by a UK government minister since the crisis escalated at the start of the summer, home secretary Theresa May will travel to the town on Thursday to confirm a joint declaration with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior. Their deal will see officers from the UK based in a new command and control centre in Calais alongside their French counterparts and Border Force personnel. The work of the police contingent will be led by two senior commanders – one from the UK and one from France. They will report regularly to May and Cazeneuve on the extent of immigration-related criminal activity on both sides of the Channel.

Officials said the move was aimed at disrupting organised criminals, who attempt to smuggle migrants illegally into northern France and across the Channel into Britain, by ensuring intelligence and enforcement work is more collaborative. Britain and France will also work jointly to ensure networks are dismantled and prosecutions are pursued, sources said. Fresh measures included in the new agreement include: • The deployment of extra French policing units and additional freight search teams, including detection dogs • The investment of UK resources including fencing, CCTV, flood lighting and infrared detection technology to secure the Eurotunnel railhead • The tightening of security within the tunnel itself, with Eurotunnel helping to increase the number of guards protecting the site • The creation of a new “integrated control room” covering the railheads at Coquelles • A security audit to be carried out by specialist French and British police teams to underpin the design of the improvements.

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The moral bankruptcy of Europe.

Refugee Chaos in Macedonia: ‘Life-Threatening for Women and Children’ (Spiegel)

A dangerous bottleneck has formed in the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija, an important hub for refugees traveling to Western Europe. Those trying to reach the trains here face extreme heat, dangerous crowds and police bullying. It’s Monday, earlier this week, and what can be seen unfolding along the route to Macedonia is no less than mass migration, with around 200 people making their way along the Balkans route to Western Europe on this day alone. They have come here from Aleppo, Homs, Kobani, Tartus, Hama and Damascus. Indeed, much of Syria’s population appears to be fleeing at the moment, as they attempt to make their way to safety. The group walks along the railway tracks that lead from the Greek village of Idomeni to the town of Gevgelija in Macedonia.

“Good luck, Kobani!” a family from Damascus calls out as they pass by a group of Syrian Kurds. “Good luck, Damascus,” they respond. But they don’t make it very far. They soon encounter five Macedonian police officers waiting along the tracks on the dusty, trampled earth. They order the people to wait without telling them why or for how long. The Syrians take off their backpacks and set them on the ground. Women and children look for a place in the shade. Over the next five hours, the waiting group swells to around 400 people. Not all are Syrians. A few Iraqis have also made it here. Some are now claiming to be Syrian, which would give them greater chances of success with their asylum applications and expedited procedures. A Syrian man points to eight young men and women from Africa.

“Everyone here is from Syria now, even those people over there,” he says, grinning. The people here all have at least one thing in common: They arrived in Europe during recent days via one of the Greek islands located near the Turkish coast – Kos, Lesbos or Chios. Each day, around 1,000 to 1,500 people arrive on the islands, a greater number than ever seen before. Most want to continue on to Western Europe as quickly as possible. The massive surge of refugees has created a dangerous bottleneck on the main route through the Balkans.

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Aug 182015
 
 August 18, 2015  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain 100-mile Harkness Handicap, Sheepshead Bay Motor Speedway, Brooklyn 1918

China Shanghai Stocks Lose 6.15% Overnight On Yuan Fears (CNBC)
World Shipping Slump Deepens As China Retreats (AEP)
Japan Exports Its Way to Irrelevance (Pesek)
China’s Currency Move Rattles African Economies (WSJ)
The Great Emerging-Market Bubble (BIll Emmott)
Bonds Signal Trouble Ahead As Equities Keep Calm (FT)
Greek Senior Bank Bonds Fall on Dijsselbloem Bail-In Comment (Bloomberg)
Greek Deposits Become Eligible For Bail-In On January 1, 2016 (Zero Hedge)
Greek Government On Its ‘Last Legs’, Merkel Faces Growing Rebellion (Telegraph)
Leftist Veteran Glezos Appeals To Syriza Leadership To ‘Come To Senses’ (Kath.)
Thanks To The EU’s Villainy, Greece Is Now Under Financial Occupation (Zizek)
A New Approach to Eurozone Sovereign Debt (Yanis Varoufakis)
Yanis Varoufakis: Bailout Deal Allows Greek Oligarchs To Maintain Grip (Guardian)
The Future of Europe (James Galbraith)
Brutish, Nasty And Not Even Short: The Ominous Future Of The Eurozone (Streeck)
Greece To Trouble Eurozone For Decades, Says Finland’s Soini (Reuters)
Banks Braced For Billions In Civil Claims Over Forex Rate Rigging (FT)
US Graft Probes May Cost Petrobras Record $1.6 Billion Or More (Reuters)
Ron Paul: Fed May Not Hike Because ‘Everything Is Vulnerable’ (CNBC)
Junk-Rated Offshore Drillers Headed into Bankruptcy (WolfStreet)
How Money, Race and Religion Determine the Fate of Europe-Bound Migrants (WSJ)

Kept going down after this article was posted.

China Shanghai Stocks Lose 6.15% Overnight On Yuan Fears (CNBC)

Chinese shares led losses in Asia on Tuesday, as nerves over China’s struggling economy and a deadly bomb explosion in Thailand sent investors scrambling for safety. A positive handover from Wall Street did little to help sentiment; the tech-heavy Nasdaq led gains with a 0.9% rise overnight, as investors scooped up battered biotech plays, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 notched up 0.4 and 0.5%, respectively, on the back of positive homebuilder data. China’s Shanghai Composite index widened losses to 5.2%, hitting a more than one-week low, as concerns over the yuan eclipsed data which showed monthly home prices up for a third straight month in July, indicating that country’s all-important property sector may be finally bottoming.

Prior to the market open, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) set the midpoint rate at 6.3966 per dollar, firmer than the previous fix of 6.3969. However, the yuan fell against the greenback, slipping 0.2% to last change hands at 6.4086. Among the mainland’s other indexes, the blue-chip CSI300 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite plummeted 4.9 and 5.7%, respectively. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tracked the losses in its mainland peers to move down 0.9%. [..] utilities and industrial sectors were among the hardest-hit, with China Shipbuilding and China Shenhua Energy being two of the biggest drags on the index despite news that Beijing may be close to announcing broad plans to reform its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) this month.

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From the same Ambrose who mere days ago was quite upbeat on world trade.

World Shipping Slump Deepens As China Retreats (AEP)

World shipping has fallen into a deep slump over the late summer, dashing hopes of a quick recovery from the global trade recession earlier this year and heightening fears that the six-year economic expansion may be on its last legs. Freight rates for container shipping from Asia to Europe fell by over 20pc in the second week of August, even though trade volumes should be picking up at this time of the year. The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) for routes to north European ports crashed by 23pc in five trading days. The storm in the shipping industry comes as the New York state manufacturing index for July plummeted to a recessionary low of minus 14.9, the lowest since the Great Recession and one of the steepest one-month drops ever recorded.

The new shipments component fell to -13.8, and new orders to -15.7. A similar drop occurred in 2005 and proved to be a false alarm but the latest fall comes at a delicate moment for the world economy. There is now a full-blown August storm sweeping through global markets. The Bloomberg commodity index dropped to a fresh 13-year low on Monday and the MSCI index of emerging market equities touched depths not seen since August 2009. A closely-watched gauge of emerging market currencies has fallen for the eighth week – the longest run of unbroken declines since the beginning of the century – led by the Malaysian Ringgit, the Russian rouble and the Turkish lira. China’s surprise devaluation last week continues to send after-shocks through skittish global markets, already on edge over a likely rate rise by the US Fed in September – though this is now in doubt.

The currency move was widely taken as a warning that the Chinese economy is in deeper trouble than admitted so far, a menacing prospect for exporters of raw materials and for trade competitors in Asia. It threatens to transmit a fresh deflationary impulse through the global system. The great worry is that companies in emerging markets will struggle to service $4.5 trillion of US dollar debt taken out in the boom years when quantitative easing by the Fed flooded the world with cheap money, much of it at irresistible real rates of 1pc. This is up from $1 trillion in 2002. The monetary cycle has gone into reverse since the Fed ended QE in October 2014 and cut off the flow of fresh liquidity. While the first rate rise in eight years has been well-telegraphed, nobody knows for sure what will happen once tightening starts in earnest.

This stress-test could prove even more painful if China really has abandoned its (crawling) dollar peg and is seeking to protect export margins by driving down its currency. The yuan has risen by 60pc against the Japanese yen and 105pc against the rouble since mid-2012. Yet China nevertheless has a trade surplus of 6pc of GDP. Data from the Port of Hamburg released on Monday show much damage this currency surge may be doing to Chinese companies. Axel Mattern, the port’s chief executive, said a 10.9pc drop in trade with China was the chief reason why volumes of container cargoes passing through the port fell 6.8pc in the first six months.

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Abenomics was always only a huge failure.

Japan Exports Its Way to Irrelevance (Pesek)

There’s a difference between bad economic news and the devastating variety that Japan received Monday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have been able to weather the second-quarter data showing a drop in Japanese consumption and a 1.6% decline in annualized growth. But it’s not clear his government can recover from the latest news about sputtering exports, which fell 4.4% from the previous quarter. An export boom, after all, was the main thing Abenomics, the prime minister’s much-heralded revival program, had going for it. The yen’s 35% drop since late 2012 made Japanese goods cheaper, companies more profitable and Nikkei stocks more attractive. But China is spoiling the broader strategy.

The economy of Japan’s biggest customer is slowing precipitously, which has imperiled earnings outlooks for Toyota, Sony, and trading houses like Mitsui. But Abe needs to recognize, as China already has, that this is only the latest sign of a broader reality: Asia’s old export model of economic growth no longer works. China’s devaluation last week raised fears of a return of the currency wars that devastated Asia in the late 1990s. That’s a reach, considering that exports are playing less and less of a role in China. McKinsey, for example, found that as far back as 2010, net exports were contributing only between 10% and 20% of Chinese GDP. The services sector is growing in size and influence to rebalance the economy – not fast enough, perhaps, but change is nevertheless afoot.

If any major country has been relying too much on exports it’s Japan. As yet another recession beckons, the Bank of Japan will likely respond with yet more easing to extend the yen’s declines and save giant exporters. No matter how cheap the yen gets, though, China will still be slowing. All the stimulus BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can muster won’t change the worsening trajectory of the region’s most-populous nation. That’s why Abe needs to take a page from Beijing and focus more on creating new industries at home. Tokyo seldom acknowledges it can learn anything from Beijing. Japan wrote the book on exporting your way to prosperity, one followed to great effect from South Korea to Vietnam, and eventually even China. But recent years have seen the student (China) surpass the teacher in moving past that simplistic growth strategy.

Abenomics, meanwhile, has proven to be a time machine endeavoring to return Japan to the export boom times of 1985. But even with additional BOJ stimulus, says Diana Choyleva of Lombard Street Research, exports don’t offer Japan a path to sustainable growth. Europe is still limping, the U.S. consumer isn’t the reliable growth engine it was a decade ago, and China’s relatively modest devaluation (about 3.5% in total) still means the yen’s value will rise on a trade-weighted basis.

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Better find an alternative to the term “emerging”.

China’s Currency Move Rattles African Economies (WSJ)

The shock waves from China’s surprise yuan devaluation are ricocheting through African economies, sending currencies tumbling and stoking anxiety that the continent’s biggest trading partner might be losing its appetite for everything from oil to wine. In South Africa, the rand hit a 14-year low of 12.94 to the dollar on Monday, extending a 2% drop since Aug. 10 and a 12% slide this year. Currencies in other African countries with close ties to China, like Angola’s kwanza and Zambia’s kwacha, are also down sharply after Beijing unexpectedly cut the yuan’s value by 2% against the dollar last Tuesday. China’s demand for Angolan oil, Zambian copper and South African gold has fueled a steep increase in trade, helping fuel rapid growth but leaving economies exposed to policy shifts in Beijing.

In 2013, Africa’s trade with China was valued at $211 billion, the African Development Bank said in June, more than twice the continent’s trade with the U.S. By contrast, 15 years ago, the U.S. traded three times as much with Africa as China did. Now, a weaker yuan is stoking fears in some African treasury departments and boardrooms that China’s buying power will be eroded—and that the world’s second-biggest economy may be slowing even more than official statistics suggest. Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered bank, said China’s move was happening at a difficult moment for many African economies, which have been buffeted by volatility that has sent many regional currencies lower this year as oil prices dropped and the dollar surged. “Countries…with narrow export bases will be substantially disadvantaged,” she said.

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“..although countries can ride waves of growth and exploit commodity cycles despite having dysfunctional political institutions, the real test comes when times turn less favorable..”

The Great Emerging-Market Bubble (BIll Emmott)

Officially, Chinese growth is rock-steady at 7% per year, which happens to be the government’s declared target, but private economists’ estimates mostly range between 4% and 6%. One mantra of recent years has been that, whatever the twists and turns of global economic growth, of commodities or of financial markets, “the emerging-economy story remains intact.” By this, corporate boards and investment strategists mean that they still believe that emerging economies are destined to grow a lot faster than the developed world, importing technology and management techniques while exporting goods and services, thereby exploiting a winning combination of low wages and rising productivity.

There is, however, a problem with this mantra, beyond the simple fact that it must by definition be too general to cover such a wide range of economies in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. It is that if convergence and outperformance were merely a matter of logic and destiny, as the idea of an “emerging-economy story” implies, then that logic ought also to have applied during the decades before developing-country growth started to catch the eye. But it didn’t. The reason why it didn’t is the same reason why so many emerging economies are having trouble now. It is that the main determinants of an emerging-economy’s ability actually to emerge, sustainably, are politics, policy and all that is meant by the institutions of governance. More precisely, although countries can ride waves of growth and exploit commodity cycles despite having dysfunctional political institutions, the real test comes when times turn less favorable and a country needs to change course.

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“..if there is ever a dispute between what the bond market is saying and what the stock market is saying, the bond market is usually right..”

Bonds Signal Trouble Ahead As Equities Keep Calm (FT)

Confidence levels in corporate bond and equity markets have diverged to an extent not seen since the financial crisis as fixed income traders signal rougher times ahead to their stock market peers. Investment-grade bond yields and equity volatility, measures of investor sentiment in their respective markets, have moved further apart than at any time since March 2008, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts. US equities tumbled for the rest of that year as the financial crisis intensified. “Somebody has to be wrong here,” said Hans Mikkelsen, credit strategist at BofA. The contrast between equities and bonds comes as many economists expect the US Federal Reserve to increase overnight borrowing costs next month, the first rate rise in almost a decade.

“If I was an equity investor I would pay close attention to what’s going on in the corporate bond market, probably more than they are currently,” said Mr Mikkelsen. The broad S&P 500 has largely traded sideways this year, and briefly turned negative last week, while implied volatility, as measured by the CBOE Vix index, remains quiescent. The Vix has eased below 13, after a brief rise above 20 in July, a threshold that in the past has signalled an escalation of investor anxiety over equities. According to the BofA corporate bond index, the gap between yields on investment-grade corporate bonds and US government bonds has moved to 164 basis points.

This takes the difference between credit spreads per point of equity volatility to 10.26bp, BofA calculates, its highest level in more than seven years. “It’s a signal, but not necessarily a timing tool,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank. He agreed that equity investors should be concerned by pessimism in the bond markets. “In my experience, if there is ever a dispute between what the bond market is saying and what the stock market is saying, the bond market is usually right,” he added.

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“We call Dijsselbloem’s solution a bail-up: part bail-out, part bail-in and part cock-up.” But that’s not the whole story (see article below this one).

Greek Senior Bank Bonds Fall on Dijsselbloem Bail-In Comment (Bloomberg)

Senior bonds of Greek banks tumbled after Euro-area finance ministers protected depositors from any losses in the nation’s €86 billion bailout. While Greece’s third bailout will spare depositors in any restructuring of the nation’s financial system, senior bank bondholders may not be so lucky, according to comments from Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The bondholders will be in line for losses if Greek lenders tap into any of the financial stability funds set aside in the new bailout. “Bondholders were overly optimistic because bail-in of senior bonds was not explicitly mentioned before,” said Robert Montague, a senior analyst at ECM Asset Management in London. “Today they were brought back down to earth with a bump.”

Under the bailout terms, as much as €25 billion will be made available in a fund to recapitalize the Greek banks, including €10 billion as a first installment. Greek stocks rose and government bond yields dropped on the deal, though senior unsecured bank bonds fell. “The bail-in instrument will apply for senior bondholders, whereas the bail-in of depositors is explicitly excluded,” Dijsselbloem said at a press conference in Brussels on Friday. Greece’s euro-area creditors made adoption of the EU’s Bank Resolution and Recovery Directive, or BRRD, a precondition of the bailout. The directive, which makes it easier to impose losses on senior creditors, should rank senior unsecured bondholders and depositors equally, said Olly Burrows at brokerage firm CRT Capital.

By protecting deposits, Greece is walking a different path to neighboring Cyprus, which imposed a levy on uninsured depositors as part of a rescue package in 2013. “It is not clear how they will make it possible to bail-in bonds while excluding deposits, but as we have seen in other problematic situations, where there is a will there will be a way,” Burrows said. “We call Dijsselbloem’s solution a bail-up: part bail-out, part bail-in and part cock-up.”

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No bail-in for deposits?! Here’s the real story.

Greek Deposits Become Eligible For Bail-In On January 1, 2016 (Zero Hedge)

Europe’s eagerness to promise depositor stability is transparent: the finmins will do everything in their power to halt the bank run from banks which will likely be grappling with capital controls for months if not years. Still, absent some assurance, there is no way that the depositors would be precluded from withdrawing all the money they had access to, which in turn would assure that the €86 billion bailout of which billions are set aside for bank recapitalization, would be insufficient long before the funds are even transfered. According to an Aug. 14 Eurogroup statement an asset quality review of Greek banks will take place before the end of the year,

“We expect a comprehensive assessment of the banks – so-called Asset Quality Review and Stress Tests – by the ECB/SSM to take place first,” EC spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt tells reporters in Brussels. “And this naturally takes a few weeks.” In other words Europe is stalling for time: time to get more Greeks to deposit their cash in the bank now, when deposits are “safe” and while everyone is shocked with confusion at the nonsensical financial acrobatics Europe is engaging in. But once Jan.1, 2016 rolls around, it will be a vastly different story. This was confirmed by the very next statement: “I must also stress that, depositors will not be hit” in this year’s review, she says. In this year’s, no. But the second the limitations from verbal promises of deposit immunity expire next year, everyone who is above the European deposit insurance limit becomes fair game for bail-in.

Dijsselbloem concluded on Friday that “Depositors have been excluded from the bail-in because in the first place it’s concerning SMEs and private persons. But it is only concerning depositors with more than 100,000 euros and those are mainly SMEs. That would again lead to a blow to the Greek economy. So the ministers said we will exclude them explicitly, it would bring damage the Greek economy.” Right, exclude them… until January 1, 2016. And only then impair them because Greece will never again be allowed to escape a state of permanent “damage” fo the economy. As for Greeks and local corporations whose funds are parked in a bank and who are wondering what all this means for their deposits, here is the answer: for the next 4.5 months, your deposits are safe, which under the current capital control regime doesn’t much matter: it’s not as if the money can be withdrawn in cash and moved offshore.

However, once January 1, 2016 hits and Greece becomes subject to a bank resolution process supervised and enforced by the BRRD, all bets are off. Which likely means that as the Greek bank balance sheet is finally “rationalized”, any outsized deposits will be promptly Cyprused. For our part, we tried to warn our Greek readers about the endgame of this farcical process since January of this year: we will warn them again – capital controls or not, pull whatever money you can in the next few months because once 2016 rolls around, all the rules change, and those unsecured bank liabilities yielding precisely nothing, and which some call “deposits” will be promptly restructured to make the Greek financial balance sheet at least somewhat remotely viable.

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Sounds more dramatic than it is. In Greece, democracy works. In Germany, differences are much less pronounced.

Greek Government On Its ‘Last Legs’, Merkel Faces Growing Rebellion (Telegraph)

Greek MPs are poised to hold a vote of confidence in the government of Alexis Tsipras after Leftist party rebels deserted the prime minister over the punishing terms of a third international bail-out agreement. Syriza’s energy minister Panos Skourletis said it was now “self evident” that parliamentarians would decide on whether or not to continue supporting the government after a “deep wound” had been inflicted on the ruling coalition. Lawmakers voted to ratify a 30-page “Memorandum of Understanding” to keep the country in the eurozone for the next three years on Friday. But the terms of the deal, which roll back a number of key pledges from the anti-austerity government, have split the ruling party. Mr Tsipras failed to get the backing of at least 120 of his own MPs, a constitutional threshold that could oblige him to trigger a vote in his leadership.

In a detailed evisceration of the austerity measures, former rebel finance minister Yanis Varoufakis denounced the agreement as encapsulating “the Greek government’s humiliating capitulation”. “Greek sovereignty is being forfeited wholesale” he said. “Not since the Soviet Union has wishful thinking, unsupported by anything tangible, posed as policymaking.” Support for the ruling coalition has becoming vanishingly thin. Greece’s two main opposition parties – which have so far voted to keep the country in the euro – vowed to pull the plug on the embattled premier should a vote be called in the coming weeks. Pasok, the much depleted socialist opposition, joined the conservative New Democracy in refusing to endorse Mr Tsipras and his junior coalition partner, led by defence minister Panos Kammenos.

[..] Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing the biggest domestic rebellion in her 10 years in office over the aid package. More than 60 of her Christian Democrat MPs rejected restarting talks over a new Greek rescue in an initial vote in July. This insurrection is set to mount when the package is put before a final parliamnetary vote on Wednesday, according to a key ally of the German premier. Michael Fuchs, deputy chairman of the CDU, said he had yet to decide whether or not he would back the bail-out as doubts over the involvement of the IMF continue to hang over Berlin. “There might be some changes by tomorrow, even,” said Mr Fuchs in an interview with Bloomberg.

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A broad summit sounds like the by far best idea available.

Leftist Veteran Glezos Appeals To Syriza Leadership To ‘Come To Senses’ (Kath.)

Leftist veteran Manolis Glezos, a former SYRIZA MEP, called on the party leadership to “come to your senses” and hold a broad summit, saying that the country’s third bailout “binds the Greek people hand and foot and enslaves them for entire decades.” “Let’s not allow the Left to become a seven-month parenthesis,” Glezos said in a statement. Describing the government’s strategy as “fickle and faltering,” he accused the party’s leadership of “erasing and destroying hopes and dreams.” “Finally come to your senses, fellow fighters and comrades of the leadership of the United Party,” Glezos wrote. “Before it is too late and before rushed initiatives are taken, listen to the voice of the people, of SYRIZA’s organizations and call a broad summit,” Glezos wrote, adding that “despite the intense dialogue that will take place, a solution will be found.”

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“.. the Greek retreat is not the last word for the simple reason that the crisis will hit again..[..]..The task of the Syriza government is to get ready for that moment..”

Thanks To The EU’s Villainy, Greece Is Now Under Financial Occupation (Zizek)

When my short essay on Greece after the referendum “The Courage of Hopelessness” was republished by In These Times, its title was changed into “How Alexis Tsipras and Syriza Outmaneuvered Angela Merkel and the Eurocrats”. Although I effectively think that accepting the EU terms was not a simple defeat, I am far from such an optimist view. The reversal of the NO of referendum to the YES to Brussels was a genuine devastating shock, a shattering painful catastrophe. More precisely, it was an apocalypse in both senses of the term, the usual one (catastrophe) and the original literal one (disclosure, revelation): the basic antagonism, deadlock, of the situation was clearly disclosed.

Many Leftist commentators (Habermas included) got it wrong when they read the conflict between the EU and Greece as the conflict between technocracy and politics: the EU treatment of Greece is not technocracy but politics at its purest, a politics which even runs against economic interests (as it was clearly stated by IMF, a true representative of cold economic rationality, which declared the bailout plan unworkable). If anything, it was Greece which stood for economic rationality and EU which stood for politico-ideological passion. After the Greek banks and stock exchange reopened, there was a tremendous flight of capital and fall of stocks which were not primarily a sign of the distrust of the Syriza government but of the distrust of the imposed EU measures a clear brutal message that (as we are used to put it in today s animistic terms) capital itself does not believe in the EU bailout plan.

(And, incidentally, most of the money given to Greece goes to the Western private banks, which means that Germany and other EU superpowers are spending taxpayers money to save their own banks which made the mistake of giving bad loans. Not to mention the fact that Germany profited tremendously from the escape of the Greek capital from Greece to Germany.) When Varoufakis justified his vote against the measures imposed by Bruxelles, he compared the deal to the Versailles treaty which was unjust and harboured a new war. Although his parallel is correct, I would prefer another one, with the Brest-Litovsk treaty between Soviet Russia and Germany at the beginning of 1918, in which, to the consternation of many of its partisans, the Bolshevik government ceded to Germany’s outrageous demands.

True, they retreated, but this gave them a breathing space to fortify their power and wait. And the same goes for Greece today: we are not at the end, the Greek retreat is not the last word for the simple reason that the crisis will hit again, in a couple of years if not earlier, and not only in Greece. The task of the Syriza government is to get ready for that moment, to patiently occupy positions and plan options. Keeping political power in these impossible conditions nonetheless provides a minimal space for preparing the ground for future action and for political education.

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“The ECB will service (as opposed to purchase) a portion of every maturing government bond corresponding to the percentage of the member state’s public debt that is allowed by the Maastricht rules.”

A New Approach to Eurozone Sovereign Debt (Yanis Varoufakis)

Greece’s public debt has been put back on Europe’s agenda. Indeed, this was perhaps the Greek government’s main achievement during its agonizing five-month standoff with its creditors. After years of “extend and pretend,” today almost everyone agrees that debt restructuring is essential. Most important, this is true not just for Greece. In February, I presented to the Eurogroup (which convenes the finance ministers of eurozone member states) a menu of options, including GDP-indexed bonds, which Charles Goodhart recently endorsed in the Financial Times, perpetual bonds to settle the legacy debt on the ECB’s books, and so forth. One hopes that the ground is now better prepared for such proposals to take root, before Greece sinks further into the quicksand of insolvency.

But the more interesting question is what all of this means for the eurozone as a whole. The prescient calls from Joseph Stigltiz, Jeffrey Sachs, and many others for a different approach to sovereign debt in general need to be modified to fit the particular characteristics of the eurozone’s crisis. The eurozone is unique among currency areas: Its central bank lacks a state to support its decisions, while its member states lack a central bank to support them in difficult times. Europe’s leaders have tried to fill this institutional lacuna with complex, non-credible rules that often fail to bind, and that, despite this failure, end up suffocating member states in need.

One such rule is the Maastricht Treaty’s cap on member states’ public debt at 60% of GDP. Another is the treaty’s “no bailout” clause. Most member states, including Germany, have violated the first rule, surreptitiously or not, while for several the second rule has been overwhelmed by expensive financing packages. The problem with debt restructuring in the eurozone is that it is essential and, at the same time, inconsistent with the implicit constitution underpinning the monetary union. When economics clashes with an institution’s rules, policymakers must either find creative ways to amend the rules or watch their creation collapse.

Here, then, is an idea (part of A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis, co-authored by Stuart Holland, and James K. Galbraith) aimed at re-calibrating the rules, enhancing their spirit, and addressing the underlying economic problem. In brief, the ECB could announce tomorrow morning that, henceforth, it will undertake a debt-conversion program for any member state that wishes to participate. The ECB will service (as opposed to purchase) a portion of every maturing government bond corresponding to the percentage of the member state’s public debt that is allowed by the Maastricht rules. Thus, in the case of member states with debt-to-GDP ratios of, say, 120% and 90%, the ECB would service, respectively, 50% and 66.7% of every maturing government bond.

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He’s not done yet by any means.

Yanis Varoufakis: Bailout Deal Allows Greek Oligarchs To Maintain Grip (Guardian)

Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has accused European leaders of allowing oligarchs to maintain their stranglehold on Greek society while punishing ordinary people in a line-by-line critique of the country’s €86bn bailout deal. Varoufakis said the Greek parliament had pushed through an agreement with international creditors that would allow oligarchs, who dominate sections of the economy, to generate huge profits and continue to avoid paying taxes. The outspoken economist published an annotated version of the deal memorandum on his website on Monday, arguing throughout the 62-page document that most of the measures imposed on Greece would make the country’s dire economic situation worse.

His first insertion makes clear his dismay at the dramatic events of last month, when the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, was forced to accept stringent terms for a new bailout amid calls from Germany for Greece’s temporary exit from the eurozone. Varoufakis, who resigned from his post in June, said: “This MoU [memorandum of understanding] was prepared to reflect the Greek government’s humiliating capitulation of 12 July, under threat of Grexit put to Tsipras by the Euro summit.” Folllowing the July summit, Athens agreed a three-year memorandum of understanding last week that will release €86bn of funds, much of it to repay debts related to two previous rescue deals. In exchange, Athens will implement wide-ranging reforms including changes to the state pension system and selling off government assets.

But Varoufakis said a reform programme overseen by the troika of lenders would only enslave ordinary workers and families by imposing tough welfare cuts while letting foreign companies grab domestic assets cheaply through privatisations. He said billionaire business owners in Greece would also escape scrutiny. In the memorandum it says: “Fiscal constraints have imposed hard choices, and it is therefore important that the burden of adjustment is borne by all parts of society and taking into account the ability to pay. Priority has been placed on actions to tackle tax evasion.” In answer, Varoufakis said: “As long as it is not committed by the oligarchs in full support of the troika through their multifarious activities.”

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Reforming the EU is a dead end street.

The Future of Europe (James Galbraith)

On June 8th, I had the honor of accompanying then-Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to a private meeting in Berlin with the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The meeting began with good-humored gesture, as Herr Schäuble presented to his colleague a handful of chocolate Euros, “for your nerves.” Yanis shared these around, and two weeks later I had a second honor, which was to give my coin to a third (ex-)finance minister, Professor Giuseppe Guarino, dean of constitutional scholars and the author of a striking small book (called The Truth about Europe and the Euro: An Essay, available here) on the European treaties and the Euro. Professor Guarino’s thesis is the following:

“On 1st January 1999 a coup d’état was carried out against the EU member states, their citizens, and the European Union itself. The ‘coup’ was not exercised by force but by cunning fraud… by means of Regulation 1466/97… The role assigned to the growth objective by the Treaty (Articles 102A, 103 and 104c), to be obtained by the political activity of the member states… is eliminated and replaced by an outcome, namely budgetary balance in the medium term.” As a direct consequence: “The democratic institutions envisaged by the constitutional order of each country no longer serve any purpose. Political parties can exert no influence whatever. Strikes and lockouts have no effect. Violent demonstrations cause additional damage but leave the predetermined policy directives unscathed.”

These words were written in 2013. Can there be any doubt, today, of their accuracy and of their exact application to the Greek case? It is true that Greek governments in power before 2010 governed badly, entered into the euro under false premises and then misrepresented the country’s deficit and debt. No one disputes this. But consider that when austerity came, the IMF and the European creditors imposed on Greece a program dictated by the doctrines of budget balance and debt reduction, including (a) deep cuts in public sector jobs and wages; (b) a large reduction in pensions; (c) a reduction in the minimum wage and the elimination of basic labor rights; (d) large regressive tax increases and (e) fire-sale privatization of state assets.

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Pretty brutal assessment.

Brutish, Nasty And Not Even Short: The Ominous Future Of The Eurozone (Streeck)

Now the dust has temporarily settled over the ruins of Greece’s economy, it is worth asking if there wasn’t a brief moment when the actors had found a way to cut the eurozone crisis’s Gordian knot. At some point in July German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, appeared to have realised that his dream of a “core Europe” with a Franco-German avant-garde would vanish into thin air if Greece was allowed to remain in the economic and monetary union. Rewriting the rules of the union to accommodate the Greeks, Schäuble realised, would pull the euro southwards, and France, Italy and Spain with it – forever breaking up the European core.

His Greek equivalent Yanis Varoufakis, for his part, may have learned from his encounters of the third kind with the Eurogroup that the only role there was for Greece in the Europe of monetary union was that of an underfed and overregulated welfare recipient. Not only was this incompatible with Greek national pride; more importantly, what the governors of Europe would be willing to offer the Greeks by way of “European solidarity” would, at best, be too little to live on. The deal Schäuble offered in the last hour of July’s battle of the euro might have been worth exploring: a voluntary exit (an involuntary one not being possible under the current treaties) that gave Greece the freedom to devalue its currency and return to an independent monetary and fiscal policy, plus emergency assistance and some restructuring of the national debt, outside of the monetary union to avoid softening its rules by creating a precedent.

A generous golden handshake might have also been an idea, protecting Germany from being blamed for having plunged the Greeks into misery or driven them into the arms of Vladimir Putin. Politics can make strange bedfellows, but sometimes just for a one-night stand. In the end Varoufakis was overruled by Alexis Tsipras and Schäuble was overruled by Angela Merkel. The latter, displaying truly breathtaking political skills, managed within a day or two to redefine the resounding no of the Greek people to their creditors’ demands into a yes to “the European idea”, defined as a common currency – allowing him to sign on to even harsher conditions than had been rejected in the referendum (called, it seems, at the suggestion of Varoufakis, who was sacked on the very evening the results were in).

Afraid of the unimaginable economic disaster publicly imagined by fear-mongering euro supporters, and perhaps encouraged by informal promises by Brussels functionaries of future injections of other peoples’ money, Tsipras was ready to split his party and govern with those who had for decades let Greece rot in clientelism and corruption, offering the parties of Samaras and Papandreou an opportunity to regain legitimacy as pro-European supporters of “reform”.

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Little people from little countries get to have their say in the press. And they get off on that.

Greece To Trouble Eurozone For Decades, Says Finland’s Soini (Reuters)


Greece will be a headache for the eurozone for decades, Finland’s eurosceptic foreign minister said, and called for the IMF to participate in the Greece’s new bailout package. “Unfortunately, this problem will be in front of us for decades, I would say, if the eurozone stays together,” foreign minister Timo Soini said in an interview with public broadcaster YLE on Monday. IMF’s participation in the new bailout is uncertain because the fund demands debt reliefs to ease the burden on Greece. “An absolute debt cut, I think, is out of question, Germany too is against it … On other issues (maturities, interest rates) we must negotiate,” Soini said.

“IMF’s participation would also strengthen the expertise in the package, so that the programs will actually be carried out by Greece.” The Finnish parliament’s grand coalition last week approved the bailout deal. Soini’s nationalist the Finns party is known for opposing eurozone bailouts but had to support the new Greek deal to be able to keep a seat in the coalition government which it joined in May for the first time. “I still think bailout policy is bad policy … But in politics, one must make unpleasant decisions,” he said.

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If governments and regulatirs won’t do it…

Banks Braced For Billions In Civil Claims Over Forex Rate Rigging (FT)

Global banks are facing billions of pounds-worth of civil claims in London and Asia over the rigging of currency markets, following a landmark legal settlement in New York. Barclays, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland were among nine banks revealed last Friday to have agreed a $2bn settlement with thousands of investors affected by rate-rigging in a New York court case. Lawyers warned the victory opens the floodgates for an even greater number of claims in London, the largest foreign exchange trading hub in the world, in a sign that the currency manipulation scandal is far from over. Banks could be hit as early as the autumn with claims in London’s High Court from corporates, fund managers and local authorities, according to lawyers working on the cases.

In addition, investors are expected to bring cases in Hong Kong and Singapore, which are also home to large foreign exchange markets. The US settlement comes just months after a record $5.6bn fine was slapped on six banks by regulators for manipulating the $5.3tn-a-day foreign exchange markets. “There will be more claims in London than in New York because it’s a bigger forex market,” said David McIlroy, a barrister at Forum Chambers. A settlement in London could amount to “tens of billions of pounds”, he said. Analysts said it would be extremely difficult to assess the financial impact on banks at this stage. “We’ve put in some element of civil fines for all the banks we cover, but it’s difficult to be specific because there aren’t that many clear precedents,” said one analyst.

“We looked at this one last week with interest, but the range of outcomes [from civil suits] is still quite wide.” Lawyers at US firm Hausfeld who worked on the class action said the recent settlement was “just the beginning”. Anthony Maton, a managing partner at Hausfeld, said: “There is no doubt that anyone who traded FX in or through the London or Asian markets — which transact trillions of dollars of business every day — will have suffered significant loss as a result of the actions of the banks. “Compensation for these losses will require concerted action in London.”

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Make that more.

US Graft Probes May Cost Petrobras Record $1.6 Billion Or More (Reuters)

Brazil’s Petrobras may need to pay record penalties of $1.6 billion or more to settle U.S. criminal and civil probes into its role in a corruption scandal, a person recently briefed by the company’s legal advisors told Reuters. State-run Petroleo Brasileiro, as the company is formally known, expects to face the largest penalties ever levied by U.S. authorities in a corporate corruption investigation, according to the person, who has direct knowledge of the company’s thinking. The settlement process could take two-to-three years, this person said. To date, the largest settlement of corporate corruption charges with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was a 2008 agreement with Siemens, the German industrial giant.

It agreed to pay the U.S. $800 million to settle charges related to its role in a bribery scheme, and paid about the same amount to German authorities. The person told Reuters the legal advisors said they believed Petrobras faced fines that could be as large as, or more than, the $1.6 billion in combined U.S. and German penalties that Siemens faced. Two other sources with direct knowledge of Petrobras’ plans also said that any settlement, while several years away, would likely be “large,” but declined to give a specific estimate. All three sources requested anonymity, and cautioned that any estimates for the size of possible fines are very preliminary. Petrobras has not yet begun settlement talks with U.S. authorities, whose investigations are believed to be in an early phase, they said.

In November, the SEC sent a subpoena to Petrobras requesting information about the widening corruption investigations that have ensnared top company executives, major private contractors and senior politicians in Brazil. According to people familiar with the matter, the DOJ, which can bring criminal charges, is also investigating the company.

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“They’re terrified of 1937..” Hmm. Don’t forget that certain people made a killing post-1937.

Ron Paul: Fed May Not Hike Because ‘Everything Is Vulnerable’ (CNBC)

China’s move to devalue its currency roiled the markets last week, and stoked new fears about the health of the world’s third largest economy. However, according to former Rep. Ron Paul, the move may have given Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen the cover she needs to not raise rates later this year, as many market participants expect. “She’s going to be more hesitant to raise rates because she sees how fragile the global economy is,” Paul told CNBC’s “Futures Now” on Thursday. “She’s under the gun,” he added. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think they are going to raise interest rates.” According to the former Republican presidential candidate, a rapidly slowing Chinese economy adds just another headwind for an already struggling U.S. economy.

“I think there’s going to be enough problems existing, whether it’s the Chinese precipitating some crisis, or whether it’s our economy breaking down,” he said. Currently, markets expect the Fed will begin tightening monetary policy at its meeting in September. Gauges like closely watched fed fund futures contracts are pricing in a 45% chance of a September rate hike, while other analysts see the odds as higher. Yet institutions like the IMF have warned that a rate hike might imperil a fragile global recovery. In June, the IMF’s deputy director warned about potential risks of a Fed tightening. By Paul’s reasoning, the Fed is too scared to raise interest rates in the middle of an already weak recovery and risk sending the U.S. economy back into recession, or worse.

“They’re terrified of 1937,” said Paul, who has long called for a “day of reckoning” that will lead to the collapse of both the fixed income and equity markets. The Fed chief “does not want to be responsible for the depression that I think we’ve been in the midst of all along,” Paul added.

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The entire oil industry will try to keep smiling all the way to bankruptcy.

Junk-Rated Offshore Drillers Headed into Bankruptcy (WolfStreet)

After fracking, offshore drilling. At the leading edge is rig-contractor Hercules Offshore. In March 2014, before the oil price collapsed, it had the temerity to sell for 100 cents on the dollar $300 million in junk bonds. Since then, its shares have collapsed to near zero. Its bonds have collapsed too. And on Thursday last week, it and a whole gaggle of related companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It won’t be the only junk-rated offshore driller with that fate, according to Fitch Ratings. Investors are going to get their pockets cleaned. “This is the lowest level of demand we have seen since the early days of the offshore industry,” Hercules CEO John Rynd had told investors in a quarterly conference call on April 29.

Hercules had already cut its global workforce – about 1,800 employees at the end of 2014 – by nearly 40%, he said. Offshore drillers have been buffeted from two directions: the collapse of drilling activity and the collapse in the daily rates they can charge for their offshore drilling rigs. So fewer rigs, and less money for each of the fewer rigs: Hercules’ revenues in the second quarter plunged 67% from a year ago! And junk-rated companies like Hercules that need new money to stay afloat and service their debts are finding out that their burned investors have shut off the spigot. “A leading indicator of further bankruptcies among other challenged high yield (HY) offshore drillers,” is what Fitch Ratings calls Hercules.

In the prepackaged bankruptcy, Hercules swaps four senior bond issues totaling $1.2 billion for 96.9% of the company’s equity. So how do these bondholders fare? The recovery rate for senior noteholders would be 41%, the company said in its disclosure statement. According to S&P Capital IQ LCD’s highyieldbond.com, “the range of reorganized equity value implies a recovery rate of 32-47.8%.” Meanwhile, the notes are quoted in the “low” 30-cents-on-the-dollar range. So for now, nearly a 70% haircut. Stockholders get the remaining 3.1% of the equity, plus warrants. Mere crumbs. To finish construction of the Hercules Highlander rig and to stay afloat a while longer, the company will also get $450 million in new money for 4.5 years, at LIBOR +9.5% per year, with a 1% floor. No more cheap money, even after bankruptcy, though it dramatically deleveraged the balance sheet at the expense of investors.

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The poor are expendable here too.

How Money, Race and Religion Determine the Fate of Europe-Bound Migrants (WSJ)

As Europe grapples with the biggest wave of migration since World War II, the fates of those crossing the Mediterranean are increasingly being determined by class systems based on money, ethnicity and religion. On these transnational trails, migrants tell of a fast-developing market for human cargo, where cash or creed can ensure a safer trip, more resources and better treatment. The discrimination starts at the beginning of migrants’ journeys at the hands of smugglers looking to maximize profits, and it ends with European authorities scrambling to handle the overwhelming numbers of people arriving and prioritizing them by nationality. In Greece this weekend, authorities deployed a 3,000-capacity passenger ferry to the island of Kos to host Syrian refugees arriving in record numbers.

Thousands of other asylum seekers on the island from Iraq and Afghanistan have been left without shelter, and with only sporadic access to food and a much longer wait to get their documents processed. Syrians are prioritized because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has advised governments that they are so-called prima facie refugees, meaning they should be granted instant humanitarian protection because they are fleeing a war zone. EU countries recently agreed to resettle some 32,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, but said they would only do that for Syrian and Eritrean nationals, both designated as prima facie refugees by the U.N.

First reception procedures should be the same for everyone, said Barbara Molinario, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency. Syrians are considered prima facie refugees, but “people from other countries might also have valid refugee claims, and generalizations should be avoided,” she said. On Kos, many locals view Syrians—who are almost neighbors across the Aegean Sea—as culturally similar to them. “Syrians are more civilized and they show more respect,” said Lefteris Kefalianos, a Kos resident who sells construction materials.

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Jan 192015
 
 January 19, 2015  Posted by at 11:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC The Arcade, Cleveland 1901

1% Own More Wealth Than The Other 99% (Guardian)
Shanghai Rally Faces Stress Test After 7.7% Market Tumble (FT)
Will China Be The Next Forex Peg To Break? (MarketWatch)
China Brokers Fall as Regulator Curbs New Margin Accounts (Bloomberg)
China Brokers Face Double-Whammy on 3-Month Margin Finance Ban (Bloomberg)
China December New Home Prices Slip, Somber Omen For 2014 GDP (Reuters)
Kaisa on Brink of Dollar Default Spooks World’s Money Managers (Bloomberg)
Kaisa Stress Spreads to Loans as Nomura Sees Big Selling Push (Bloomberg)
China Dream Ends for Handan as Steel Slump Spurs Property Losses (Bloomberg)
ECB’s Nowotny: Deflation To Have Dangerous Political, Social Impact (Reuters)
Bank Losses From Swiss Currency Surprise Seen Mounting (Bloomberg)
Switzerland Could Act on Currency Again, Central Banker Says (WSJ)
The Next Victim Of Crashing Oil Prices: US Housing (Zero Hedge)
OPEC’s Future Reflected in Mining Slump as Oil Price Pummeled (Bloomberg)
Oil Boss Says More Job Cuts Ahead (WSJ)
BOJ Puts Japan Bond Yields On Road To Nowhere (CNBC)
Banks Battle Speculation Denmark’s Euro Peg at Risk (Bloomberg)
Greece’s Syriza Party Widens Lead Over Ruling Conservatives (Reuters)
Kremlin Links Kiev’s ‘Massive Fire’ Order To Upcoming EU Council Meeting (RT)
Snowden: Hackers Stole 50 Terabytes Of Joint Strike Fighter Blueprints (RT)
Overuse of Nitrogen and Phosphorous Could Bring About Devastation of Earth (DSJ)

“We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”

Half of Global Wealth Held By The 1% (Guardian)

Billionaires and politicians gathering in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to tackle rising inequality after a study found that – on current trends – by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%. Ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, the anti-poverty charity Oxfam said it would use its high-profile role at the gathering to demand urgent action to narrow the gap between rich and poor. The charity’s research, published today, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%. Oxfam added that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International and one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF, said the increased concentration of wealth seen since the deep recession of 2008-09 was dangerous and needed to be reversed. In an interview with the Guardian, Byanyima said: “We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders. “The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”

Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010. Byanyima said: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”

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“Almost no investors believe this is the end of the party ..”

Shanghai Rally Faces Stress Test After 7.7% Market Tumble (FT)

Fevered rallies and dramatic falls go with the territory of investing in mainland China. But even by Shanghai’s wild standards, Monday’s plunge was one to remember. By the close of trading, the Shanghai Composite had tumbled 7.7% — its biggest fall in five years — erasing all its January gains. Having been the best performing market in the world last year, China’s volatile streak has been swiftly exposed once more. The immediate trigger was a move by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to clamp down on margin lending at the big brokerages, which all saw their stocks down by the daily limit of 10%. Borrowing to invest in equities has been a key driver of Shanghai’s charge upwards, with margin financing almost tripling between June and December to hit Rmb767bn ($124bn) last week.

Hong Hao, strategist at Bank of Communications, described the curb on margin trading as a “nasty surprise”, and one that could send the market into a tailspin. “With less incremental liquidity flow into stocks and damped sentiment, the market will correct in the near term, and the move can be violent,” Mr Hong wrote in a note to clients. Separately on Friday, the banking regulator issued draft rules that would limit the use of intercompany loans. Loans between non-financial companies, in which a bank serves as intermediary, have exploded in recent years, with new loans hitting Rmb2.5tn in 2014. Local media reports say some of those funds have flowed into the stock market. The question now facing investors is whether the market can bounce back quickly without more credit-fuelled speculation.

Many remain bullish, seeing the new regulations as simply a stress test for the market. Jin Mi at China Merchants Securities, a top 10 brokerage by assets, said the CSRC was sending “a warning to the market against excessive optimism”. “Almost no investors believe this is the end of the party,” he wrote in a report. Many analysts believe Shanghai’s bull run is a government-induced phenomenon, designed to give Chinese savers an alternative to the wobbly housing market or risky shadow banking products . That has drawn in millions of retail punters, who have been opening new trading accounts at a record pace. “The government has been urging people to buy stocks, which gives people a sense of a put on the market,” says David Cui, strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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Deflation is a real threat in China now. The dollar peg makes that a lot worse.

Will China Be The Next Forex Peg To Break? (MarketWatch)

The surprise move by Switzerland to scrap its currency ceiling against the euro last week is a reminder there can be unexpected collateral damage from central banks waging currency wars. As markets digest last week’s turmoil, expect focus to turn to other fault lines on the global currency map. Here China stands out, as like the Swiss, it runs an implicit currency peg that is becoming increasingly painful to maintain. Due to its longstanding crawling peg to the U.S. dollar, the yuan has increasingly found itself pulled higher against just about every major currency. The world’s largest exporter has already had to endure two years of aggressive yen devaluation since the introduction of Abenomics and its accompanying quantitative easing. Now comes a new front, as the ECB looks ready to green-light its own QE next week. The move by Switzerland also means the Swiss National Bank ceases its purchases of euros needed to maintain its peg, again meaning the euro will all but certainly head lower.

Further currency strength is likely to be distinctly unwelcome for the Chinese economy. Later this week, gross domestic product figures for 2014 are widely expected to show growth at its slowest pace in 24 years if, as some predict, the government’s 7.5% annual growth target is missed. This comes at the same time that the economy is flirting with outright deflation and amid a new trend of foreign capital exiting China. Last week’s currency ructions present a new headwind to growth as exports will be harder to sell across Europe, China’s second biggest market after the U.S. The other danger looming for China is that a strong currency exacerbates deflationary forces. Producer prices have been falling for almost three years, and the plunge in crude-oil prices adds a further disinflationary bent. The property market looks as if it could also push prices decisively lower. Prices of new homes in big cities fell 4.3% in December from a year earlier, according to new government data released over the weekend.

The difficulty for Beijing is that these external movements in currencies are outside its control. If moves to depreciate the euro trigger another round of competitive deprecations, just how much more yuan appreciation can China withstand? While the policy actions of both the Swiss and European central banks last week appear quite different, they share a common feature: Both acted with reluctance only when the pain became too much to bear. The reason deflation is public enemy No. 1 for central banks is that debt becomes much harder to service and can stall growth and employment as consumers put off purchases and business put off investment. China certainly has debt levels that would make deflation worrisome. Total debt levels are now estimated to be in excess of 250% of GDP. Lower-than-expected bank loan growth in December also suggests demand in the economy is already weak.

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Beijing had no choice but to curb the mad influx in stocks.

China Brokers Fall as Regulator Curbs New Margin Accounts (Bloomberg)

Chinese brokerages’ shares plunged after the securities regulator suspended three of the biggest firms from adding margin-finance and securities lending accounts for three months following rule violations. Citic Securities, the nation’s biggest broker, fell 14% as of 9:35 a.m. in Hong Kong. Haitong Securities and Guotai Junan Securities were among others whose shares tumbled. The trio were suspended after letting customers delay repaying financing for longer than they were supposed to, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on its microblog on Jan. 16, without giving more details. Regulators may have been concerned that stock gains, partly driven by margin financing, are too rapid, according to Hao Hong, a strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong.

The move came after the Shanghai Composite Index surged 63% in six months and brokers including Citic and Haitong announced plans to raise more money to lend to clients.“Brokerage shares are likely to get hit,” Hong said before the market opened today. “After all, margin financing is one of the reasons for people to be bullish on brokerage stocks, and these stocks have run particularly hard.” Citic and Haitong, the nation’s biggest brokers by market value, announced plans for share sales that will help fund an expansion of businesses including margin financing. Those two and Guotai Junan were the three largest by assets in a 2013 ranking by the Securities Association of China. “The regulators are doing this to cool down the stock market,” said Castor Pang, head of research at Core-Pacific Yamaichi in Hong Kong. “Stock market sentiment will definitely go down.”

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But did Beijing oversee what the effect would be? How about when the 3-month ban is over, what will happen then?

China Brokers Face Double-Whammy on 3-Month Margin Finance Ban (Bloomberg)

China’s biggest brokerages are getting squeezed on two fronts as regulators curb loans to equity traders. Not only does the three-month ban on new margin-trading accounts at Citic Securities and Haitong Securities reduce their potential earnings from lending to clients, it also curbs one of the biggest buyers of the firms’ own shares: margin traders. The brokerages are among the top five holdings of investors using borrowed money, according to Shao Ziqin, analyst for Citic, who cited calculations as of Jan. 15. Of the top 20, six were brokers and seven were banks. They all plunged today as the Shanghai Composite Index headed for the biggest drop since 2008. “Bank and brokerage stocks will definitely be the hardest hit since leveraged funds helped to push up their share prices in the first place,” said Zhang Yanbing, an analyst at Zheshang Securities in Shanghai.

Investors borrowed 32.6 billion yuan ($5.2 billion) to buy Citic Securities shares as of Jan. 15, accounting for about 3% of outstanding margin loans, according to Shao, who cited Wind Information data. Haitong purchases had attracted 14.8 billion yuan of margin loans. The total amount of shares purchased on margin has surged more than tenfold in the past two years to a record 1.1 trillion yuan, or about 3.5% of the nation’s market capitalization. In a margin trade, investors use their own money for just a portion of their stock purchase, borrowing the rest from a broker. The loans are backed by the investors’ equity holdings, meaning that they may be forced to sell when prices fall to repay their debt. Citic Securities said in an e-mail that its operations remain unchanged, including a plan to sell shares via a private placement in Hong Kong.

While shares of both brokerages tumbled by the daily 10% limit in mainland trading today, they’re still sitting on gains of more than 100% in the past 12 months. That compares with a 56% increase in the Shanghai Composite. Brokerage shares will remain under pressure in the next few days, according to Ryan Huang at IG Ltd. Regulators are concerned the world-beating gains in the country’s equity market have been too fast, he said. Citic and Haitong let customers delay repaying financing for longer than they were supposed to, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on its microblog Friday, without giving more details. Guotai Junan Securities was also suspended from adding margin accounts, while the regulator punished nine other securities companies for offenses including allowing unqualified investors to open margin finance and securities lending accounts.

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China real estate is in deep doodoo.

China December New Home Prices Slip, Somber Omen For 2014 GDP (Reuters)

China’s new home prices fell significantly in December for a fourth straight month even as year-end sales volumes surged – a somber omen for fourth-quarter 2014 economic growth data due out later in the week. Sunday’s gloomy National Burea of Statistics’ data foreshadowed weak economic figures set for Tuesday, with expansion expected to slow to 7.2%, the weakest since the depths of the global financial crisis. Falling property prices are likely to keep pressure on policymakers to head off a sharper slowdown this year. The expected slowdown in growth of the world’s second-largest economy, from 7.3% in the July-September quarter, means the full-year figure would undershoot the government’s 7.5% target and mark the weakest expansion in 24 years.

If the GDP data proves worse than expected, some analysts say the People’s Bank of China could cut interest rates further or lower reserve requirement ratios (RRR) for all banks. A reserve ratio cut would give banks greater capacity to lend, but many market watchers question if they would be willing to increase their exposure as economic conditions deteriorate. With real-estate investment accounting for about 15% of China’s GDP growth, a 9% decline in new floor space under construction in the first 11 months of 2014 could take a heavy toll. “We expect China’s GDP growth to slow further in 2015 to 6.8%, as the ongoing property downturn leads to further weakness in construction and industrial production, and related investment,” Tao Wang, China economist at UBS, wrote in a note.

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“.. at risk of being the first Chinese real estate company to default on its dollar-denominated bonds.”

Kaisa on Brink of Dollar Default Spooks World’s Money Managers (Bloomberg)

As Europe grapples with terrorism and Switzerland scrapped a currency peg, the troubles of a Chinese developer that’s never reached $3 billion in market value became something investors from New York to London couldn’t ignore. A missed $23 million interest payment by Kaisa earlier this month puts it at risk of being the first Chinese real estate company to default on its dollar-denominated bonds. That may signal deeper risks for China’s already fragile and corruption-prone property market, which according to World Bank estimates accounts for about 16% of economic growth. Chinese companies comprised 62% of all U.S. dollar bond sales in the Asia-Pacific region ex Japan last year, issuing $244.4 billion of the $392.5 billion total, Bloomberg data show.

BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, owned Kaisa’s 8.875% securities due 2018 and the ones the subject of the missed coupon payment, the 10.25% 2020s, its latest filing on Jan. 14 shows. Funds managed by JPMorgan, Fidelity and ING also held some of Kaisa’s debt at the end of October, according to filings. Kaisa’s woes began late last year when the government in Shenzhen, less than 15 from Hong Kong, blocked approvals of its property sales and new projects in the city. It’s also being probed over alleged links to Jiang Zunyu, the former security chief of Shenzhen who was taken into custody as part of a graft probe, two people familiar with the matter said last week, asking not to be named because the connection hasn’t been made public.

Kaisa missed an interest payment due Jan. 8 on its $500 million of 2020 bonds. The notes were sold to investors at par, or 100 cents on the dollar, in January 2013. In December, when some of Kaisa’s projects were blocked and key executives quit, the debentures lost 40.1%. They continued to fall in January, slumping to 29.901 cents on the dollar on Jan. 7, a record low, however have since recovered to trade at about 34.6 cents. Concern is mounting that increasing financial stress among builders could spill over into a broader credit crisis in China. New-home prices fell in 65 of the 70 cities monitored in December and were unchanged in four, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement yesterday. Shenzhen recorded higher prices, the first city to see an increase in four months.

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“Loan investors are shunning Chinese property developers amid speculation the government will target more builders after pledging to step up anti-graft probes.”

Kaisa Stress Spreads to Loans as Nomura Sees Big Selling Push (Bloomberg)

Loan investors are shunning Chinese property developers amid speculation the government will target more builders after pledging to step up anti-graft probes. Loans from Shimao Property, Country Garden, Evergrande Real Estate and Greentown China, maturing within four years are at levels that indicate impending stress, according to offered prices compiled by Bloomberg from two traders. President Xi Jinping last week said there’ll be no let-up in his “fierce and enduring” battle against corruption, which has already embroiled thousands of senior officials. Kaisa, a homebuilder based in the southern city of Shenzhen, roiled credit markets after founder Kwok Ying Shing quit as chairman Dec. 31, triggering a loan default.

“There’s selling pressure coming from people who want to trim their portfolios to better manage any outsized concentration in developers,” Andrew Tan at Nomura in Singapore, said by phone on Jan. 15. “I haven’t seen such a big motivation to sell in Chinese property loans for some time.” Shimao’s June 2018 loans are currently pricing at about 90 cents on the dollar, with offers at between 85 and 95 cents, compared with 92 cents in December and 96 cents in November, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Country Garden’s December 2018 loans were also offered in the 88 cents to 95 cents range, versus about 95 cents a month ago, two traders said. Offers on Evergrande’s first-lien loan and Greentown’s loan signaled a 5-cent weakening from their levels in December, they said. While China’s banking system outlook is stable, asset quality metrics will likely deteriorate in the coming 12 to 18 months, in line with slower economic growth, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report today. Problem loans from the real-estate sector may start increasing from a small base if the property market downturn continues, it said.

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Set to be a classic line all over: “It was just like a dream: I had everything but when I woke up it was all gone.”

China Dream Ends for Handan as Steel Slump Spurs Property Losses (Bloomberg)

Five months ago, Hao Liwei was living the good life, funded by a 36% annual return on a property investment. Then her nightmare began. Interest payments ceased in August and attempts to recover her money failed. Her home town, the steel-production city of Handan, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southwest of Beijing in Hebei province, was grappling with plunging demand for steel and plummeting prices. Economic growth slumped to 5.5% in the first nine months of last year, from 10.5% in 2012. “The sky collapsed and I thought of killing myself,” said Hao, 40, now a taxi driver. “It was just like a dream: I had everything but when I woke up it was all gone.”

Hao is among the collateral damage as China reins in years of debt-fueled investment-led growth that’s evoked comparisons to the period preceding Japan’s lost decades. As policy shifts China toward greater consumption and innovation-led growth, Handan’s reliance on the steel industry for expansion has left it among cities feeling the brunt of adjustment pain. “Steel towns have been decimated many times before, in Pittsburgh, in the U.K., in France, in Belgium,” said Junheng Li, founder of researcher JL Warren Capital in New York. “Handan has a choice: cling to steel and suffer an inexorable decline or invest in the future, wherever it may be.”

Handan’s woes deepened in September, when local authorities sent work teams into 13 property developers to contain risks after a failure to repay funds raised illegally from the public sparked panic, Xinhua News Agency reported. Thirty-two homebuilders had raised a combined 9.3 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in illegal fundraising or high-return deposits, causing police to detain 94 people, Xinhua reported. In freezing, pollution-darkened air that exceeded the World Health Organization’s safety limit by more than 14 times, Wu Ren waited last week outside a property development in downtown Handan in hope of recovering funds he invested in a developer named Century in Gold. Wu, in his mid-40s, said he invested 500,000 yuan for a return exceeding 18% a year. The developer’s boss disappeared in August, he said.

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“That would be linked to massive negative effects on the labor market.”

ECB’s Nowotny: Deflation To Have Dangerous Political, Social Impact (Reuters)

The European Central Bank has limited options left to counter long-term stagnation in the euro zone, ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny was quoted as saying in an interview published on Monday. The ECB faces a crucial test of its resolve to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro when it decides this week on buying government bonds to combat deflation and revive the economy. Asked to what extent the ECB’s arsenal was exhausted and what it could still do, Nowotny told Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung: “Our possibilities are limited.” He did not elaborate. Inflation in the euro zone is well below the ECB’s mid-term target of just under 2% but Nowotny said he did not expect a protracted period of deflation.

“We had negative inflation rates in December and perhaps we will have them in the first months of this year, but I do not believe we can expect deflation for 2015 overall. But the margin of safety has become smaller,” he was quoted as saying in the interview. Asked if it would be difficult to pull out of deflation if it set in, he said yes. “We see the danger from Japan, which for two decades has low growth, low inflation and low interest rates, thus long-term stagnation. For Europe, lasting low growth is not a (desired) prospect,” he said. “That would be linked to massive negative effects on the labor market. And it would certainly have dangerous political and social impact.”

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This will continue for a while yet.

Bank Losses From Swiss Currency Surprise Seen Mounting (Bloomberg)

The $400 million of cumulative losses that Citigroup, Deutsche Bankand Barclays are said to have suffered from the Swiss central bank’s decision to end the cap on the franc may be followed by others in coming days. “The losses will be in the billions — they are still being tallied,” said Mark T. Williams at Boston University. “They will range from large banks, brokers, hedge funds, mutual funds to currency speculators. There will be ripple effects throughout the financial system.” Citigroup, the world’s biggest currencies dealer, lost more than $150 million at its trading desks, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. Deutsche Bank lost $150 million and Barclays less than $100 million, people familiar with the events said..

Marko Dimitrijevic, the hedge fund manager who survived at least five emerging-market debt crises, is closing his largest hedge fund, which had about $830 million in assets at the end of the year, after losing virtually all its money on the SNB’s decision… FXCM, the largest U.S. retail foreign-exchange broker, got a $300 million cash infusion from Leucadia after warning that client losses threatened its compliance with capital rules. FXCM, which handled $1.4 trillion of trades for individuals last quarter, said it was owed $225 million by customers. Shorting the franc was a popular trade and most firms would leverage their positions some 20 times or more, said Williams, who consults for hedge funds.

With such leverage a 5% move against the position wipes out all the value, yet the trades were seen as relatively low-risk by models used by financial institutions because volatility of the franc was reduced by the SNB’s cap, he said. Citigroup had reported an average total trading value-at-risk, a measure of how much the company could lose in trading in one day, of $105 million in the third quarter, of which $32 million was attributed to foreign-exchange risks. Deutsche Bank’s so-called stressed value-at-risk, which measures possible daily losses in market turmoil, averaged 109 million euros ($126 million) in the first nine months, with 27 million euros related to foreign-exchange risks.

Swiss banks, which haven’t announced any losses so far, will probably also suffer in the longer term, said Arturo Bris, a professor at IMD business school. “The negative effects for the Swiss banks come in two ways,” Bris said. “First, it will reduce the flow of assets from the outside and will encourage the exit of Swiss money to other countries. Secondly, they will be hurt by the negative impact on the Swiss economy.” Pain from wrong-way bets may not be limited to just the financial industry. “We’re just hearing about financial institutions now,” Philip Guarco at JPMorgan Private Bank, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “Remember what happened back in 2009, when the dollar rallied? You actually had major corporates in Mexico and Brazil, where the treasury departments were taking positions in FX. So we haven’t heard the end of it yet.”

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“Mr. Jordan said the franc remains “greatly overvalued.”

Switzerland Could Act on Currency Again, Central Banker Says (WSJ)

The Swiss central bank is ready to intervene in the currency markets again to weaken the franc if necessary, the bank’s head said, just two days after the removal of a cap on the franc triggered a surge in the currency’s value. Swiss National Bank President Thomas Jordan said the central bank was forced to scrap its policy of keeping minimum exchange rate of 1.20 Swiss francs a euro due to divergent economic developments and mounting risk from its euro-buying operations. The bank will continue to monitor the situation and act if necessary, Mr. Jordan said in an interview with Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

“We have said goodbye to the minimum exchange rate,” Mr. Jordan said in the interview published Saturday. “But we will continue to consider the exchange-rate situation in our decisions and intervene in the foreign-exchange market if necessary.” The SNB’s surprise decision on Thursday to ax the minimum exchange rate roiled markets and caused the Swiss franc to gain around 30% at one stage before settling 15% higher against the euro to trade near one Swiss franc to the euro, from around 1.20 before the announcement. The Swiss stock market swooned and shares in companies such as food giant Nestlé and pharmaceuticals maker Novartis had billions wiped from their values as shareholders sought to cash in on the sudden appreciation of the currency.

Stocks in some Swiss companies including watchmaker Swatch slumped as analysts reduced their sales and profit forecasts as a result of the franc’s rise. The higher value of the Swiss franc reduces the value of sales made in the eurozone, which accounts for more than half of its exports. The minimum exchange rate had been in place since September 2011 and was intended to head off deflation and protect the competitiveness of Swiss companies. Mr. Jordan said the franc remains “greatly overvalued.” He said he expects negative interest rates introduced by the SNB to make the franc less attractive, but ruled out introducing capital controls to further weaken demand for the currency.

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“.. non-residential construction and specifically physical structures, which is where roughly 90% of energy capex is..”

The Next Victim Of Crashing Oil Prices: US Housing (Zero Hedge)

While a record amount of ink has been spilled praising the benefits of plunging crude price on the US consumer, so far this has manifested merely in soaring consumer confidence, if not in an actual boost to retail sales. In fact, as the Census Bureau reported last week, December retail sales were the biggest disappointment and suffered the steepest monthly drop since the polar vortex.

It appears that instead of doing what so many economists thought, and immediately using their “savings” to boost discretionary income, households are either i) saving the lower gas price windfall (and considering the unprecedented savings rate revision gimmick used by the US Department of Commerce to boost Q3 GDP to 5.0% this is completely understandable), or ii) as we explained some time ago, instead of spending on discretionary purchases, households are forced to spend more on far less pleasant, if just as GDP-boosting staples, such as soaring health insurance premiums courtesy of Obamacare (those who benefit from Obamacare most likely don’t have any work commute-related expenditures in the first place). Less has been written about the adverse side-effects of plunging oil, even though by now even the most “undisputed” permabulls have been forced to admit that the imminent collapse in capital spending is truly “unprecedented”, a phrase Goldman uses in the chart below.

So what does plunging CapEx actually mean for the economy, aside from a substantial haircut to 2015 GDP, and what other areas of the economy will be affected by the Saudi Arabian scorched earth war on the US shale industry? First, we look at the impact of plunging crude on non-residential construction and specifically physical structures, which is where roughly 90% of energy capex is — namely outlays for exploration and wells. Spending there tracked an annualized rate of $140bn in the first three quarters of 2014, a sum that accounts for a whopping 30% of total non-residential private fixed investment in structures, or about a 1% of GDP. So what about residential construction?

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Coal, iron ore output still rises and prices dive.

OPEC’s Future Reflected in Mining Slump as Oil Price Pummeled (Bloomberg)

Oil producers reluctant to curb output even as prices tumble to five-and-a-half year lows don’t need to guess what the future holds. They can ask a miner. In coal to iron ore markets, suppliers have raised volumes even as prices slumped, boosting global gluts and jeopardizing profits as the most dominant players seek to maintain revenue and squeeze out higher cost rivals. Prices of thermal coal, used to generate electricity, and metallurgical coal, a key ingredient in steel, have tumbled more than half since 2011 on supply additions and slowing demand in China, the biggest commodities consumer. With OPEC insistent that it won’t curb crude output, and U.S. production rising to its fastest weekly pace in more than 30 years, oil markets may be in line for similar prolonged pain.

“If OPEC every now and again looks over their shoulder at what is happening in other commodities you’d think it would be a warning,” said David Lennox at Fat Prophets. OPEC, which pumps about 40% of the world’s oil, agreed to maintain its production target at 30 million barrels a day at a Nov. 27 meeting in Vienna. The group is wagering that U.S. shale drillers will be first to curb output as prices drop, echoing a strategy played out by the largest miners. “The current prices are not sustainable,” Suhail Al Mazrouei, energy minister of OPEC member the United Arab Emirates said Jan. 14 in Abu Dhabi. “Not for us but for the others.”

Iron ore producers who predicted a swift exit by higher cost suppliers as their commodity entered a bear market last March were caught out as curbs to global output proved slower than anticipated, Nev Power, CEO of Australian iron ore producer Fortescue said in October. Coal exporters, too, have kept increasing supply as prices slid. Global output rose about 3% between 2011 and 2013 as prices declined, according to World Coal Association data. In Australia, the biggest exporter of metallurgical coal, production is forecast to rise again in the year to July, according to the nation’s government. “Oil will have more similarities to both thermal and metallurgical coal,” Morgan Stanley analyst Joel Crane said. “Those prices have been weakening for more than three years now, yet we’ve seen very little in terms of shutdowns.”

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“.. quarterly earnings for his firm that fell 82% on more than $1 billion in charges including those related to downsizing.”

Oil Boss Says More Job Cuts Ahead (WSJ)

Energy companies aren’t finished shedding jobs due to crude oil prices that are half what they were about six months ago, the world’s biggest oil-field-services provider warned soon after disclosing 9,000 job cuts. Paal Kibsgaard, chief executive of Schlumberger, said on Friday U.S. oil producers that focus on shale fields are worse off than rivals elsewhere because of their higher costs. “The new oil prices are clearly going to test the resilience of several North American land producers going forward,” he said, citing “their ability to get financing, their ability to continue to drive efficiencies and reduce costs and their ability to maintain production at current levels.”

Some of the largest U.S. oil-and-gas producers have cut 2015 capital spending budgets by 20% or more. Investment bank Cowen said international firms would cut spending by 20% this year and by another 10% in 2016. Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes will need to shrink further as clients demand price cuts and dial back spending on wells, Mr. Kibsgaard said while discussing quarterly earnings for his firm that fell 82% on more than $1 billion in charges including those related to downsizing. The three companies help energy producers drill and frack their wells.

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“Yields have fallen so low that analysts no longer have any historical risk models to fall back on..”

BOJ Puts Japan Bond Yields On Road To Nowhere (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) massive asset purchase program has put government bond yields on a relentless slide into negative territory, and while some analysts insist a U.S. rate hike will reverse the trend later this year, others expect a slide into unchartered territory. “Yields have fallen so low that analysts no longer have any historical risk models to fall back on,” said Shinichi Tamura, Barclays’ Japan bank analyst, noting that rates strategists are going on blind faith that yields will stop falling. Japan’s short-term yields, of less than three years, turned negative last year, and last week the 5-year Japanese government bond (JGB) slipped close to zero several times. As of Monday morning Asian time, the yield was quoted at 0.018%, up from 0.005 basis points after market close on Thursday.

Most worrying, Tamura said, is the flattening of the yield curve with long-term government bond yields also on a relentless downward trend. On Monday morning, the 10-year was quoted at 0.242 basis points — above the historical low of 0.228% hit early last Friday -, and the 30-year is at 1.105%. “Bond investors are uncomfortable with what they see as an abnormal situation,” said Mana Nakazora, chief credit analyst at BNP Paribas. If the current levels hold, the price of new corporate bonds will be benchmarked against negative government bond yields. So, “they can’t see where they are going to secure returns after 2015 and beyond, or when the BOJ will end the current round of quantitative easing and stop buying up JGBs.”

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Let’s see when the euro reaches parity with the dollar.

Banks Battle Speculation Denmark’s Euro Peg at Risk (Bloomberg)

Banks in Scandinavia are joining the Danish government in trying to persuade offshore investors that the Nordic country isn’t about to copy Switzerland and drop its euro peg. SEB, the Nordic region’s largest currency trader, said it’s been fielding calls from hedge funds wondering whether Denmark might be next after the Swiss National Bank shocked markets by exiting a three-year-old euro cap on Jan. 15. Economy Minister Morten Oestergaard a day later sought to silence doubts surrounding Denmark’s currency peg, which he said remains “secure.”

Carl Hammer, chief currency strategist at SEB in Stockholm, says he’s been trying to make clear to callers that it’s “highly unlikely” Denmark will alter its exchange-rate regime. Speculation Denmark will follow the SNB has forced bankers across Scandinavia to provide offshore investors with a crash course in Danish monetary policy. Hedge funds calling SEB, Danske Bank and other Nordic banks have been urged to consider that Denmark’s peg has existed for more than three decades and is backed by the European Central Bank, unlike the SNB’s former system. “Obviously, we think it’s completely unrealistic” that Denmark will abandon its peg, Jan Stoerup Nielsen, an economist at Nordea Markets in Copenhagen, said by phone. “But that doesn’t seem to be stopping the speculation.”

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Not enough yet. Be brave, my Greek friends.

Greece’s Syriza Party Widens Lead Over Ruling Conservatives (Reuters)

Greece’s anti-bailout Syriza party is solidifying its opinion poll lead over the ruling conservatives eight days before the country’s election, a survey on Saturday. The survey by pollster Kapa Research for Sunday’s To Vima newspaper showed the radical leftists’ lead widening to 3.1%age points from 2.6 points in a previous poll earlier in the month. The national vote on Jan. 25 will be closely watched by financial markets, nervous that a Syriza victory might trigger a standoff with Greece’s European Union and IMF lenders and unleash a new financial crisis.

The survey, conducted on Jan. 13-15, showed that Syriza, which is running on a pledge to end austerity policies and renegotiate the country’s debt, would win 31.2% of the vote if the election was held now, versus 28.1% for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy conservatives. The centrist party To Potami (River) ranked third with 5.4%. The leading party must generally receive between 36 and 40% of the vote to win outright, though the exact threshold depends on the share of the vote taken by parties that fail to reach a 3% threshold to enter parliament. The electoral system automatically gives the winning party an extra 50 seats to make it easier to form a government.

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“.. such attempts coupled with the apparent provocation (similar to the situation with the Malaysian Boeing and the incident with a bus in Volnovakha) come, as a rule, on the eve of the European Union and other Western states meetings”

Kremlin Links Kiev’s ‘Massive Fire’ Order To Upcoming EU Council Meeting (RT)

Kiev resumed its military assault in eastern Ukraine on Sunday despite receiving a proposal Thursday night from the Russian president that both sides of the conflict withdraw their heavy artillery, Putin’s press secretary said. “In recent days, Russia has consistently made efforts to mediate the conflict. In particular, on Thursday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a written message to Ukrainian President Poroshenko, in which both sides of the conflict were offered a concrete plan for removal of heavy artillery. The letter was received by President of Ukraine on Friday morning,” president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said as cited by RIA Novosti news agency. “The latest developments in Ukraine connected with the renewed shelling of populated areas in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions cause grave alarm and put in jeopardy the peace process based on the Minsk memorandum,” Putin’s letter reads.

Putin suggested the immediate withdrawal of artillery with a caliber more than 10mm to the distance defined by the Minsk agreements.Russia is ready to monitor the fulfillment of these moves jointly with the OSCE, the letter concludes. However, Peskov stressed, the Ukrainian leader rejected the plan without offering alternatives and “moreover started military actions all over again,” resulting in an “absolute degradation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Kiev of using the ceasefire to “regroup its forces, trying to take a course for further escalation of the conflict with a purpose to ‘settle’ it in a military way.” “We are deeply concerned by the fact that the Ukrainian side continues to increase its military presence in the southeast of the country in violation of the Minsk agreements,” the ministry said in a statement. [..]

Russia has expressed readiness “to use its influence on militia” in southeast Ukraine so they voluntarily agree to withdraw heavy armament from the frontline, so that its geographic coordinates correspond to Kiev’s demands “to avoid more victims among the civilian population.” The Foreign Ministry has linked the deadly attacks in Donetsk and Kiev’s “massive fire” order with the upcoming EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on January 19. It has noted that “such attempts coupled with the apparent provocation (similar to the situation with the Malaysian Boeing and the incident with a bus in Volnovakha) come, as a rule, on the eve of the European Union and other Western states meetings, which deal with the situation in Ukraine.”

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“The humiliating 2007 incident saved China “25 years of research and development ..” Note: Snowden neither confirms nor denies that China is behind it.

Snowden: Hackers Stole 50 Terabytes Of Joint Strike Fighter Blueprints (RT)

The reported theft by Chinese hackers of blueprints for the US’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter amounted to 50 terabytes of classified information, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have revealed. The hackers are believed by many US officials to be affiliated with the Chinese government. The humiliating 2007 incident saved China “25 years of research and development,” according to a US military official cited by The Washington Post in a 2013 article covering the breach. Previous media reports said “several terabytes” of data was stolen, but according to the new documents published by the German magazine Der Spiegel last week, the actual amount was far higher, at 50 terabytes –the equivalent of five Libraries of Congress.

The data – reportedly used by China to build their own advanced fighter jets – includes detailed engine schematics and radar design. F-35 blueprints are just a fraction of what Chinese hackers have allegedly stolen from the Pentagon’s data vaults over the years. The reported haul includes some two dozen advanced weapon systems, including the AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System, Littoral Combat Ship designs and emerging railgun technology, a classified report revealed in 2013.

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“It might be possible for human civilization to live outside Holocene conditions, but it’s never been tried before.”

Overuse of Nitrogen and Phosphorous Could Bring About Devastation of Earth (DSJ)

The Earth is on its way to become inhabitable owing to the increased use of artificial fertilizers like phosphorus and nitrogen which are exceeding the planetary boundaries. The fact has been confirmed by the director of the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Professor Stephen Carpenter who also stated that “We’re running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist.” At the beginning of Holocene period, the Earth was a much better place to live owing to the human activities that led to refined developments in social, political and religious aspects. Carpenter commented “Everything important to civilisation took place prior to 1914.”

Some of the best things then included development of agriculture, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the Industrial Revolution and following that era the human activities began the destruction of Earth. Prof. Carpenter and his team carried out a research regarding the impacts of carbon-driven global warming, including biodiversity loss and sea level rise. Explaining their findings the researchers stated “We’ve (people) changed nitrogen and phosphorus cycles vastly more than any other element. (The increase) is on the order of 200 to 300%. In contrast, carbon has only been increased 10 to 20% and look at all the uproar that has caused in the climate.” They also highlighted the unnecessary use of artificial fertilizers for boosting agriculture in the US as the land is already rich in nutrients.

Excessive use of fertilizers on a land already rich in nutrients is causing negative impacts and is pushing the civilization beyond safe boundaries. Some countries have land rich in nitrogen and phosphorous while many others have soil lacking these elements and they face difficulty in growing food without artificial fertilizers. Carpenter said “We’ve got certain parts of the world that are over polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus, and others where people don’t even have enough to grow the food they need.” To avoid upsetting the ecosystem, he has advised industrial farmers to cut down the overuse of phosphorus and nitrogen. He added “It might be possible for human civilization to live outside Holocene conditions, but it’s never been tried before. We know civilization can make it in Holocene conditions, so it seems wise to try to maintain them.”

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